A space station deep in the darkness of space. An intelligent race of alien beings that communicate through a hive mind. Valuable materials, knowledge, and scientific experiments. The Swapper plays up on many sci-fi tropes but adds in an incredible unique mechanic — a tool that allows you to create and swap consciousness between clones.
I’ve had my eye on The Swapper for a while and when it came to PS+ for free, it was an instant pickup for me. If you’re looking for a short puzzler, you should pick it up, too.
- TL;DR: Puzzler with a unique mechanic that makes you think about mortality
- Platform: PS4
- Score: 8.4
- Hours Played: 5
- What I Played: Story mode
- Recommended?: Yes, especially at the low, low price of free to PS+ members.
After a short opening sequence, The Swapper drops you into a dark, seemingly abandoned space station. You quickly come across the titular swapper which turns the game into one like no other. The first main function of the swapper, clone creation, is vital to completing the puzzles you’ll find. You can have up to four clones active at a time for a total of five bodies. All of the clones move as you move instead of being independently controlled. This raises a morality question: if all clones move and act as the main body does, do they share some kind of over-arching mental capacity?
The swapper’s second function, the actual swapping of consciousness between clones, is just as important. The body that you currently control is the only one that can make new clones and collect the generic “orbs” required to progress through the game. If the clones all move in unison but only the main body can gather items, does that speak to the level of intelligence that the clones have on their own? What about when you swap to a new body and the previous one dies? Did every bit of you come through that little ray that moved your consciousness?
The Swapper is decidedly a puzzle game. There is no combat, no life points, no upgrades to find, and no collectibles. Each puzzle is in it’s own self-contained room and tasks you with collecting orbs which allow you to progress through the game. Pressure plates will open and close doors in the room, so you’ll need to figure out the right sequence of cloning, swapping, and moving to keep each door open while you grab the orb. Any area lit up with a blue light won’t allow a clone to be created within it while areas lit up in red won’t allow the swapping beam to go through it. There’s no explanation as to why the lights do what they do, it’s just kind of given as accepted fact. Rooms near the end of the game add in purple lights, which don’t allow clone creation or swapping, and gravity inverters.
You’ll come up with some cool tricks while playing The Swapper. If you’re falling too fast and are about to die, for example, you can create a clone right above the ground level and swap to it before impact. Your previous body will crumple lifelessly to the ground, sure, but you’ll be alive. Can’t reach a ledge? Create a clone on top of it and swap to it. Hell, even ledges so high that you can’t see them are in reach if you create-and-swap vertically a few times in a row.
I found most of the puzzles challenging but not impossible to solve. You do have to solve each puzzle, of which I had to look up the solution to four, in order to finish the game. Thankfully, The Swapper has a nice Metroidvania style to it, allowing easy backtracking via teleporters placed around the station. One thing that threw me for a loop, though, is in certain sections of the game where gravity and vertical orientation is different from other sections of the station the map rotates as a whole. I understand the reasoning behind it — to keep the ideas of up/down/left/right true to where you are currently located instead of to some central point — but it took some getting used to.
The art style in the Swapper is absolutely beautiful. All of the settings were hand-modeled in clay before being digitized which help give The Swapper a very unique look. The majority of the station is dark and barely lit by dangling bulbs or spotlights, which add to the gloomy feel and story. I didn’t talk about the story earlier like I normally would have because, while there is a story told through a few journal entries and about five total minutes of cut scene, I feel like it was severely rushed. An ancient race of intelligent space rocks are being researched aboard the station but end up mysteriously causing the death of the crew? Meh.
All in all, The Swapper is a fun, short ride. It brings up some interesting questions about morality and mortality through the eponymous swapper, which also breathes new life into the old 2D side-scroller genre. It’s definitely worth your time if you have a PS+ membership, since it’s free to download.