By: Matthew Striplen
Ever had the feeling you were being watched, only to turn around to find no one there? How about then finding a suspiciously human-like face hiding in the shadows? Ugh, just the thought makes my hair stand on end. Now, imagine an entire game built around that feeling and what you get is The Swapper.
The Swapper is a unique take on a well known genre: the puzzle platformer. That, combined with the extraordinarily creepy atmosphere, places the game somewhere between Dead Space, Metroid and old-school Castlevania, and the result is frickin’ awesome.
As a port of the original 2013 PC title, several of the game’s mechanics hinge on the PC’s setup. Most notable is the character’s viewing function, which is controlled by the right stick. This was obviously designed with a mouse in mind, and although the transition from mouse to stick is smoother than many other titles, the lasting impression is that mouse control would have been a bit easier. Everything else works very smoothly.
The Swapper‘s graphics truly set it apart from just about everything else. The overwhelming majority of games use digital images as the basis for animations and environments. Can you guess what the developers of The Swapper used? No? How about clay? Clay! And it looks incredible.
This unique medium provides a superior a level of detail and realism generally absent from mainstream games. Just to clarify, the developers made clay models of the characters and environments, photographed them, and then put them in the game. It’s so goddamn cool, I can’t stand it. Additionally, the lighting and shadow effects are absolutely outstanding and further bolster the game’s eerie vibe.
The sounds are equally compelling, especially in regards to the soundtrack. The compositions are beautiful and impart a stunning message of loneliness and emptiness. The performances themselves are very well done. The voice acting is sparse but consistently good. Absolutely no complaints here.
What interests me so much about The Swapper is how it manages to take a often used game mechanic and transform it into something disturbing. Your character possess two devices, one which creates clones of yourself, and the other called the Swapper. These clones copy your every move, and the Swapper enables you to take switch control with any clone in your field of vision.
Everything seems pretty standard until you begin discovering how these devices work. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s awesomely “creeptastic.” After playing more games than I could possibly count, very little surprises me in video game plot lines. However, the pace at which the player uncovers juicy information is positively tantalizing. If this were a book, I’d call it a page turner.
The core of The Swapper is, of course, the puzzles and exploration. The two devices I mentioned above are the player’s only tools, but what makes the game so interesting is the multiple applications and uses of the same equipment. The Swapper eases the player into the game gently, saving the really heavy hitting puzzles for later.
Possibly the best part of the entire game is the level design. Minimal gameplay instructions are given, but the designs of the puzzles themselves force the player to learn to better play the game without leaving the player unsure of what to do next.
To give an example, the Swapper seems to have only one clear ability: to swap control of the clones. I then came to a section in zero gravity, and I quickly discovered that walking no longer worked. Since I knew I had to get through the area, I was left with no choice but to experiment, and lo and behold, I discovered that the Swapper gives the player a gentle push when fired. This is the kind of innovative, intuitive level design missing from the vast majority of games, both past and present.
As soon as I finished The Swapper, I knew I had to play it again for two main reasons. The map is freaking huge, and despite the objectives being clearly labeled, collecting everything on the first run is next to impossible. Secondly, this game poses a series of moral choices throughout the adventure.
I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong compulsion to find out what happens if my choices had been different. How much do they affect the storyline? Who knows! You’ll have to play to find out. What I particularly like about the choices is that they feel like a natural extension of the game. Many games with similar features try too hard to let the player know, “Hey, listen! You’re choosing your own path! Isn’t that cool?” I prefer this more subtle approach.
On the topic of morality, I can safely say that The Swapper made me question what constitutes a soul and a body more than any other game. The cloning device obviously creates extra bodies for your use, but when you see a body that moments ago had been your own flesh and blood fall off a cliff and buckle under its own weight, it kinda makes you wonder if you just committed murder, suicide, or both… or neither. Gah! Too many thinks. Brains hurts.
This might be the best game I’ve reviewed. The Swapper has so many great qualities, I barely know how to begin. The gorgeous graphics, spine-tingling soundtrack, fantastic storyline and pacing, and, of course, the challenging puzzles create a fresh, gripping and deeply unsettling adventure. If you like good things, you need to buy this game.