Multi-Coloured (Sci-Fi) Swap Shop
Summer's here, the retail games release schedule is tumbleweed and that fancy new console of yours is getting year old PC ports. So, glass half empty, right?Well, no. Not when ports as interesting and high in quality as The Swapper are finally appearing on consoles. An inventive and atmospheric sci-fi puzzler, its switch to Sony platforms should be wholeheartedly welcomed. It’s just the kind of bite-sized moody little offering that serves to smartly fill the gaps between AAA titles. Coming from a small team, Facepalm Games - and ported by Curve Studios - the minimalistic approach to storytelling fits perfectly with the sci-fi genre chosen for the puzzle mechanics. If you enjoy eerie space sci-fi, with the hint that all is not what it seems, you should appreciate the aura here.
It leans heavily on genre tropes but does so with such a striking visual flair and adept hand at layered audio that you’ll likely forgive the borrowed filmic plot points and clearly sign-posted inspirations. It’s got a bit of Moon, a dab of 2001, maybe a hint of Event Horizon and more than a smattering of Solaris. But even if all this game tried to be was a brooding homage, it would still be worth playing due to the puzzles themselves, which are not only creative but incredibly satisfying.
SubterraneanYou find yourself arriving at an excavation site linked to an abandoned space station, a lonely outpost somewhere in the furthest reaches of space. The dilapidated environments created fill you with a sense of unease, as you peer through the gloomy darkness, the light on your head being your main source of illumination. It also acts as an indicator of where you’re looking, which is essential as the perspective taken for many scenes is from some distance. Once again, the sci-fi cinematics come to the fore as the camera pulls back from smaller corridors to reveal cavernous rooms engulfing your small form.
The central theme, both plot and gameplay-wise, is that of replication. The titular “swapper” is a device capable of creating up to four versions of yourself wherever it is pointed, and you can use a secondary function to switch consciousnesses with any one, thereby taking their place.
The old cliches of pressure plates that need to be stood on are relied upon heavily, but the introduction of different light sources that block one or both swapper functions is the first twist. It starts to become about angles, and the correct order of doing things, like a Rubik’s Cube. Once the level design begins to rely upon the fact that your movements are mirrored by your clones, and they need to be in certain exact positions at key moments, otherwise you’ll have to restart, it becomes more like cracking a safe.
HomesickThe beauty is, for all the incongruity of these conundrums in comparison to the standard sci-fi setting - the unexplained platforms that need to be stood on which exist for no other reason than to tax you - the puzzles themselves never feel out of place. The atmosphere pervades everything in The Swapper, and the segue from a zero-g glide between hatch doors and your introduction to a nonsensical series of metaphorical hoops to jump through is never questioned.
The eerie lonely silence, creaks of the space station hull, hollow footsteps and wonderfully understated music cues keep you in the frame of mind that somehow this bizarre set of circumstances is just another exploration. It also helps that the aesthetic could almost be defined as dilapidated space art, such is the strange beauty of the ambient light bouncing off decaying metal and technology. It's a lonely game, but also a beautiful one; your first sojourn outside, into space proper, is almost balletic.
The atmosphere pervades everything in The Swapper
The Metroidvania style of exploration helps you tackle puzzles in the order you choose, as the map is open, save for obvious blocked points. The only stipulation for progression is that you have to amass a certain amount of orbs, received from successful puzzle completion. It’s not as liberal an approach is it might initially seem, as to get to the end you’ll need to complete everything, so if you thought you might be able to skip one that stumps you, think again.
AlienIt should be an arduous task, going between puzzles in an abandoned complex where your movement is often typically slow and space-walk like, but smart deployment of teleporters cuts out any major backtracking. You’re generally left with a short journey from a central area to the branching hatches that may contain the necessary orbs, which gives you just enough sense that you’re not simply fast-travelling between puzzles at the expense of the mood.
This isn’t merely a series of aesthetically pleasing brainteasers with a story filler, it’s a convincing whole, a proper sci-fi puzzler that bonds all the elements together.
As with any game that tries to tax your mental faculties, the most important factor is that the designers play fair. It’s rare to get such a title that can pass without the inkling that at some point the answer was almost cryptically hidden, but The Swapper manages to sidestep these complaints. There’s only really one instance where a mechanic is necessary for solution and had thus far been unused, but once you get to the final few puzzles - where gravity is thrown into disarray, to the point you’re finding walking on the ceiling normal - copious experimentation is in order anyway.
A Space Odyssey
- Visually striking
- Well constructed puzzles
- Interesting story
- Quite short
The Swapper PS4 ReviewVisually striking and with some hauntingly understated audio, The Swapper is a perfect example of a short game where atmosphere overlays simple mechanics to great effect. The run time may be brief, but that ensures it doesn't fall into the trap of excessive repetition, and with this being a Cross-Play title, you're getting a game that fits as well on a portable as on your home console.
It’s an intelligent and thoughtful puzzler that places real emphasis on the isolation of its sci-fi setting and some wonderfully labyrinthine cloning conundrums. At times it’s akin to Portal’s moodier little brother, equally full of invention as traditional tropes, but always drawing you in through an inriguing minimalistic story and the lure of that eureka moment when everything finally clicks.
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