by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Intimate and Memorable
There are a number of reasons I enjoy gaming on my PC. I enjoy the versatility of modding, I like being able to upgrade my system at will, and sometimes the good ‘ole mouse and keyboard just can’t be beat. However the real reason that I’ve shifted most of my gaming away from consoles and onto my desktop is the raw originality and passion present in the myriad of small independent games released every month. The freedom and self-direction granted by the relative ease of publishing on PC has resulted in some of the most original, intimate, and memorable titles I’ve ever played. The Swapper, developed by the small Helsinki-based studio Facepalm Games, is a prime example of all of these things, delivering an experience that I’m not going to forget anytime soon.
In its simplest form, The Swapper tells a story that hardly sounds revelatory or particularly unique. You are an astronaut, and it’s your job to figure out just what happened to cause a fully staffed space station to be almost completely wiped out. Throughout your journey you’ll traverse diverse environments ranging from jungle-like greenhouses, rocky mining zones, home-y crew quarters and beyond in the search for survivors, orbs to unlock doors, and answers. The beauty, however, lies in how the story is told. I absolutely love that the game never felt the need to over-explain things or shove them in my face. Subtlety is key, with the truth being revealed through a mix of occasional computer logs, infrequent dialogue, and clues in the environment. The more you pay attention, the more nuanced the game’s story and world become, and I wish more developers would have enough faith in their audience’s intelligence to let us connect the dots ourselves. It also doesn’t add any fluff to the narrative to try and add artificial length. Only clocking in at about five hours, the game can be completed in an evening or two, but by not being afraid to let the game be what it is length-wise, it maintains its wonderful tone and pacing without interruption.
Learning on your feet
The Swapper is a puzzler through and through, and its mechanics are a perfect example of “easy to learn, tough to master”. There is only one tool to use in the game, the title-inspiring swapper gun that lets you create up to five clones of yourself at any given time. They can be placed almost anywhere within your line of sight, and they mirror all movement of your main avatar. Click another button and both your consciousness and the swapper gun are shifted from your current body to one of your clones. That’s it. There are no hordes of evil aliens to fight, no gun upgrades to collect, nothing. It’s all about forcing your mind to come up with inventive ways to use your swapper gun. Every tool you’ll need to complete every single puzzle is fully unlocked and available to you in the first couple minutes of the game.
What’s amazing is that, despite this, the puzzles never get stale. At first it’s enough to simply throw out a clone or two to reach a tall ledge or stand on pressure plates, but eventually the game evolves to keep you thinking. Red and blue lights block you from making clones and shifting your control respectively, and tractor beams make for some one way roads. Thankfully, time slows to a crawl while you aim your gun, allowing you to pull off some truly impressive chains (though it doesn’t completely stop, meaning acting with purpose is still critical). I’ll never forget the first time that I discovered, without the game helping me whatsoever, that I could point my gun straight up, make a clone and transfer, and repeat to “fly” up huge ledges, or that I could jump down a few hundred feet and transfer to a clone on the ground at the last second to survive. These options and more blow open the door for puzzle options, and give the player a real sense of accomplishment because, again, the game doesn't hold your hand or spell out all the things you can do before you discover them yourself.
Simple yet versatile puzzle mechanics. Beautiful aesthetics. Gripping atmosphere and successfully incorporated deeper themes.