I woke up early on a Sunday so that I could devote an entire day to fighting the good fight, namely playing video games all day and eating bountiful amounts of pizza. It was a special sort of day, because with a forty-hour internship taking up most of my time, I rarely get these entirely open days to myself. I was finally going to sit down and play a game I had so anxiously waited to beat from start to finish. That game was Assassin’s Creed III.
I sat down at my PC, I opened up Steam, and I noticed something sitting in my “Downloaded Games” list. I had received my press copy of The Swapper that preceding Friday, and I had honestly completely forgotten about it. This was a huge mistake. That Sunday was one of the best days with video games I’ve had in a long time, and I didn’t even touch Assassin’s Creed III.
As one of the only surviving inhabitants on a derelict space station that has recently suffered from a massive plague, the idea that you must escape by any means possible is instantly instilled deep within you. To do this, you’ll be using your recently acquired Swapper Gun to create clones of yourself that you can transfer your soul to at any time. The catch is that they mirror your every move.
Puzzles are housed in different rooms of the space station, and upon completion you are rewarded with what can be best described as reskinned star coins from the popular “New Super Mario Bros.” games, which unlock new sections of the ill-fated space station.
Tying the different sectors of the space station together is a map which is always available by pressing the “Q” key. The map progression is much akin to Super Metroid, or the more recent Guacamelee!, and it does a superb job at making you want to scour every corner of the station for each collectible data log and every one of the strange alien rocks that are aboard the vessel. Aiding to this is the fact that once you discover a new section of the ship, every collectible is on your map from the get-go. Because of this hunting collectibles never rips you away from puzzle solving, or advancing the story further for too long.
Towards the end, namely within the last three or four puzzles, there is an insane difficulty spike that literally had me stumped for hours. It got to the point where I had to (unwillingly) look up some help, but once I was able to figure them out, I felt stupid for getting stumped in the first place. Other than that slight hiccup, the puzzles were just challenging enough so that when I figured them out I felt smart, but they rarely hung me up for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time.
The first time I cloned myself in The Swapper, I only saw the clones as disembodied extensions of my being. I didn’t think that they were fully formed humans, more a split up version of myself. Then I killed one. I was using them to traverse upwards by spawning them higher than myself and switching to them one after the other. Imagine the horror I experienced after switching to my second clone as I heard every bone in the first one’s body break as it hit the ground. From the second I realized what my Swapper Gun did, I was thinking up new ways to use it, like transferring the soul of a dying person into a copy of a younger body. The way I saw it was that by destroying these clones, I was systematically nullifying the incredible possibilities of what they could be used for. They didn’t have souls, but they weren’t dead inside. Aiding to this atrocity was the fact that there is literally no possible way to advance through the game without killing many, many clones.
As if the game couldn’t get any more unique, the graphical style employed here is literally (as far as I know), the first and only of its kind. Everything you see in The Swapper was either formed of clay, or other household objects. Somehow, the objects populating The Swapper’s world felt more real to me than nearly every other video game that I’ve ever played. Even more jaw-dropping is the fact that the animations are completely smooth and devoid of the normal jerkiness that comes along with clay-mation. It truly is astounding that such an inventive and seemingly difficult to execute graphical style could come from such a small team.
Adding to the stellar graphics is the way that Facepalm Games uses music to create a profoundly creepy atmosphere that will in one second be sending chills down your spine, and in another instilling a sense of hope for the lonely hero. Even though some of the songs repeat while you’re stuck on a puzzle, it doesn’t feel like they’re looping. It feels like they’re just continuing to play as one track.
When playing The Swapper, it was abundantly clear to me that what Facepalm Games has made shouldn’t be possible. The graphical style alone is something to marvel at, but with the game’s perfect use of atmosphere, thought provoking and sometimes even scary story and one of the strongest puzzle mechanics I’ve encountered since “Portal 2″, the pieces of a true masterpiece all fit together just how they should. If you have a PC, The Swapper is a game that you would be truly unwise to pass over.
The Swapper was reviewed with a code for the game provided by Facepalm Games. You can purchase The Swapper at their website, here.