The science fiction genre has always been a source for creativity to flourish. Dangling just beyond our reach, the idea of bizarre space anomalies and strange new life forms hangs within the realms of the great void of space, and it’s through this mysterious veil that we cast our focus. For every story involving verdant new worlds or highly civilized lifeforms, there will in turn be the tales of the infinite emptiness of space and the malignant creatures that want nothing more than to invade your body.
The Swapper sits firmly on the latter of the two options mentioned above, with its emphasis on maintaining an aura of confusion and unease acting as a backdrop for the puzzling elements that drive the gameplay. You play as a stranded survivor on the Theseus, a once functional spacecraft that has since fallen into disrepair. With the crew unexplainably missing, you’re expected to discover just what has happened whilst looking for a way off the ship.
The game is heavily focused on the mechanics of the ‘Swapper’, a peculiar device gained near the start of the game that allows the user to create clones of themselves at both short and long range distances. What’s more, they are then able to swap their own consciousness between the active clones, so long as they have a clear line of sight to them. You can only have a maximum of five instances of yourself active at any given moment, including your original self, and many of the game’s puzzles derive from this restriction, forcing you to think logically about where you place your clones when trying to complete each obstacle.
To complicate matters, the game slowly introduces several other obstacles to restrict progress even further, by way of coloured lights. The blue lights allow you to fire your swapping beam through them but restrict any chance of spawning a clone inside the field of light. The red beam has the opposite effect where clones can be spawned, but no swapping beam can pass this field. While it may seem odd that a superior piece of technology that’s able to produce matter out of nothing can’t penetrate the altered hue of a beam of light, the mechanics behind this are sound. Each puzzle requires you to approach the situation of what you can and can’t do with a logical mindset, and whilst the way at first may seem unclear, stopping and analysing the options that are available to you will eventually yield the right answer.
One such puzzle greeted me with a room full of vibrant colours. A mixture of blues and reds cast liberally against a large portion of the chamber, with a few seemingly meaningless pockets of unlit space to fill in the rest of the area. A large chasm spanned the gap between me and the shiny token I had to acquire, and any attempts made to clear the gap by jumping were met with a swift and undignified death. After a few minutes of repeated dying and head scratching, the way became clear. In order for me to pass the challenge I had to create several clones inside the empty spaces and carefully manoeuvre them in sync as they traversed the areas I could not reach, triggering the necessary pressure plates scattered around and deactivating the lights that blocked me from swapping over the gap. There’s an odd sense of satisfaction that comes with completing a puzzle room, and it comes as a stark contrast against the otherwise bleak atmosphere of the derelict spacecraft.
Along with the puzzle-driven progression, the game features a large portion of the derelict ship for you to explore. Similar to that of a Metroidvania, the world is spread across a flat 2D canvas, and you’re expected to navigate throughout in your search for the various puzzle rooms. Fortunately, backtracking through previous areas of the ship isn’t very difficult as there are plenty of teleportation devices that allow you to fast travel between key points on the ship, helping you go back to any rooms you may have passed on previously.
By just focusing on the puzzles, you’re likely to miss out of the underlying story that surrounds the game, which is a shame as there’s a narrative hiding under the surface that makes for interesting reading. By exploring the expansive halls of the ship, the tone of the game becomes much darker than it first seems. There’s an eerie presence that lingers throughout, and as you clear more of the game’s puzzles, it becomes clear that the story is as morbid as the gloomy visuals of the game lead you to believe, with topics of ethical practises sitting at the forefront of the narrative.
Since The Swapper started life as a PC title, it was always going to be a challenge to see just how a controller could handle the dual input of movement and aiming. Since your cursor is always relevant to your player’s character, it was perfectly suited to that of a keyboard and mouse. Movements that required quick reactions we’re easily achievable with the freedom afforded to the PC control scheme. On the PS4, the controls are tied to the twin thumbsticks, with the clone creation and swap ability tied to the trigger buttons accordingly. I never had any issues playing with the default settings, but for those who do the game features the option to let you adjust the sensitivity of your aiming reticule, which should help those with issues acclimating to the controller layout.
As far as console ports go, The Swapper is a solid entry to the PS4’s indie catalogue. The game remains true to the PC version, excelling in deliverance of a compelling and atmospheric sci-fi horror story. The puzzles are well paced and engaging yet rarely stray past a high level of difficulty, meaning you’re unlikely to be stuck on the same puzzle for days on end. Top that off with an intuitive set of controls well suited for the console and it’s easy to see why The Swapper got ported to begin with. Those of you who’ve already completed the game might not have much reason to play through again, but for newcomers this is definitely one to pick up.
This game was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer for that purpose.
This review is based on experiences from the PS4 version of the game.
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