The Swapper (2013)
Publisher: Facepalm Games
Platform: Microsoft Windows, OS, Linux
At its surface, Facepalm Games’ The Swapper is a fantastic puzzle game with great atmosphere and interesting mechanics. But it’s much more than that. For those who are willing to delve further, there is a rewarding story with surprisingly deep philosophical implications. It is these moments of craft that elevate The Swapper from a good game to a great one.
The Swapper follows a nameless character trapped aboard a seemingly abandoned space station. You soon find a ‘swapper’ device, a gun that allows you to make four clones of yourself and swap your consciousness between them. This is the mechanic that defines the puzzles of the game. All of your clones mirror your movements, and it’s up to you to use them to make your way through the environment. I emphasize using them. The game makes you uncomfortable as you watch countless versions of yourself fall to their deaths, figures crumpling as their spines shatter from fatal falls. Are they mindless clones, or are you losing parts of yourself?
The puzzle design increases in difficulty at a satisfying pace. They start out simply enough—you put a clone in a hard to reach place, swap over to them and move on. Switches and obstacles are introduced, as well as blue lights that prevent cloning and red lights that prevent swapping. The difficulty spikes at the end, with some puzzles requiring particularly innovative solutions. These had me scratching my head for a lot longer than I would have liked, but once the answer presented itself it felt like it had been right in front of me the whole time. It was frustrating, but it never felt like the games fault.
The atmosphere of the game is dark and heavy, accentuated by a muted and melancholy soundtrack. The world of The Swapper is presented in 2D. It’s beautifully rendered and exploring the space station is a joy. The game rewards exploration of these environments with story beats presented by different computer logs. These logs chronicle the collapse of society aboard the space station through the influence of the Watchers. These are a race of psychically linked pieces of stone the researchers brought aboard the station. As you pass by them in your exploring of the research facilities, they’ll send you a brief psychic message to supplement the story and their role in the death of the station.
The story, while minimal, represents the best part of this game. It’s drip-fed to the player, leaving you plenty of time to ponder its meaning. Another survivor appears from time to time, prompting you to follow her. There’s something odd about her, but it isn’t until the end you find out exactly what it is. All of this comes together wonderfully in an ending where you are given a final choice, a choice that reflects the moral questions the game begs you to ask. I recommend watching both endings as each are vastly different and satisfying in their own ways.
The Swapper is an example of what video games can do as a storytelling medium. Like all good stories, it gives players a reason to pause and reflect on themselves and the world around them. The story is enhanced by the gameplay and fantastic puzzle design. The Swapper is not a game that should be missed.