by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Besides making for some awesome, unique puzzles, the very act of using the swapper gun begs you to ponder some deeper themes. Are these clones merely lifeless meat bags until you shift control to them, or is each and every one a person with a mind and heart of its very own? It’s hard to explain without actually playing the game, but The Swapper does a superb job of handling themes like this and more. I’d heard before playing the game that it begs deeper thoughts from the player, but before actually jumping into my space suit I had my doubts. I mean, I’ve blown away tens of thousands of Nazis without batting an eye. I’ve driven cars down the sidewalk mowing down civilians and police officers just for kicks. Why would making some clones get to me?
The truth is I still don’t know, but it did. It still does. There was something really jarring the first time I jumped off the aforementioned ledge and transferred before impact, only to see the body that I was in (or was it still me?) splat into a tangle of human spaghetti. These themes and questions are present throughout the game, tie perfectly into the puzzles and story without ever seeming forced or over-the-top, and culminate wonderfully in a pitch-perfect game ending.
The last pieces of the puzzle that collectively make this game so great are the visuals and audio. The game is hand-crafted from clay and other common materials, then digitally edited, to create a world that is very familiar, yet completely alien. Even in a short title such as this, there were more than a handful of times when I paused or backtracked through an area just to enjoy the environments and backdrops. It was great how I could go from feeling the claustrophobic hug of an overgrown greenhouse one moment to the utter emptiness and sense of isolation within the span of a few moments. The debate over the validity of games as art really is rather inconsequential and probably won’t end anytime soon, but screenshots of certain parts of The Swapper could certainly be at home in a gallery or hanging on a wall. If the visuals are optically delicious, the subtle audio is the seasoning to bring out their finer flavors. Loud sweeping overtures are traded for minimalistic audio, acting to emphasize sound effects that really bring Space Station Theseus to life (or, rather, the exact opposite of life). The voice acting, though there isn’t much of it, is also spot on.
No game is perfect, but The Swapper is as close to it as I’ve played in a long time. A score of “10” denotes that despite any dismissively minuscule flaws, the game is one that can and should be enjoyed by anyone and raises the bar in its genre. Therefore, I have no reservations awarding it here. The Swapper is a game that perfectly blends gameplay, story, aesthetics, and mood to shine as a perfect experience of the type of experience only video games can deliver. Please developers, I beg you, look here and see that the path to truly enjoyable games is not paved with high pixel counts, handfuls of modes, or buckets and buckets of bullets. Instead, it is formed with bricks of balance, ingenuity, and heart.
Simple yet versatile puzzle mechanics. Beautiful aesthetics. Gripping atmosphere and successfully incorporated deeper themes.