Reviewed on Playstation 4 and Vita, Official Website
The world of Indie gaming seems decidedly split into three broadly distinct camps. The first, and least interesting, are those simply mimicking traditional triple-A titles. Many of these are good, but they aren’t particularly exciting. The second camp are those leveraging retro formulas to create often novel, but familiar, titles. The last, which often blends with the second, are those creating truly unique experiences on a smaller, more intimate scale.
“The Swapper” is one of these.
Like other lauded indie games of recent years it wraps a clever, mind-bending mechanic within an engrossing, well-told story. The setting is a derelict deep-space station sent from a dying Earth decades before to discover new resources. Although basically a two-dimensional platformer, the environments are lovingly hand-drawn and meaningfully atmospheric. Dark and almost medieval in execution.
As you explore the ship you come across dozens of sentient boulders that were “captured” by the original crew and insinuate their alien thoughts into your own. Were these strange intelligences simple witnesses to the disaster that befell the crew or were they instrumental parts of it?
You navigate the enormous, labyrinthian ship using the titular “swapper” device. which is really two distinct devices. The first function creates a mindless clone of yourself at some distance from you that will mimic all your actions. Remember the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Commander Riker is cloned by the transporter? Just like that.
The second function of the device allows you to send your consciousness between clones. This, of course, leads to intricate puzzles where you must use these abilities to navigate and activate sections of the ship. Puzzles are made more complex by various lights and gases that inhibit one or both functions of the device.
You can create clones (unless prevented from doing so) anywhere where you have a line of sight. Helpfully, time also slows while doing this, allowing you to reach heights or drop down by creating a chain of clones and transferring your consciousness across them. Like many classic mechanics, it’s difficult to explain, but easy to grasp in practice.
The controls are clean and usable, even if they’re also quirky enough that you’ll spend a significant amount of time running backwards. Movement is somewhat lethargic and suits both the atmosphere and the deliberate gameplay. A small number of the puzzles require moderately quick reflexes, but the bulk are purely brain-teasers.
The difficultly ramps up nicely, but there are a few stinkers that stumped me longer than I would care to admit. That said, the entire game should take most players less than five hours to complete. Trophy hunters will be pleased that all trophies are the result of a simple hidden terminal collection quest. They’ll also be disappointed because they are nearly impossible to find without assistance.
Like the puzzles, atmosphere and environment, the story is pitch perfect on multiple levels. It’s complex and truly a puzzle unto itself. It raises multiple ethical, philosophical and practical questions that you may, and likely will, ponder long after the game ends.
The game is available on a half dozen popular platforms; there’s no reason not to play. It’s definitely not one to miss.