That’s it! I don’t ever want to hear the weak argument that indie games aren’t really games ever again!
Curve Studios has successfully ported over Facepalm Games' mind-bending, thought-provoking 2D platform-puzzler, The Swapper, to the PlayStation ecosystem. Not only is this one of the best indie games I’ve ever had the privilege of playing, but it’s also one of the best games I’ve played in a long time...period. Even though it may be on the short side in term of its narrative, you better believe that some of these puzzles will take what seems like hours to beat. If you’re a fan of having your wits tested, and you have the patience to sit back and look at the whole picture, you will be hard pressed to find another game quite as compelling as The Swapper.
Now, before I attempt to get us through this review with little-to-no spoilers, I want to make it very clear that problem solving has never been my strong suit, so what may be incredibly challenging for me could very well be a cakewalk for some of you more intelligent beings. While some puzzles featured in The Swapper may only take a few minutes to solve, there were a few where I was slowly chipping away at them, only to realize I had been working on it for 45 minutes to an hour. It’s a game that demands your focus at all times, and it helps that the atmosphere keeps you locked in, thanks to its excellent level and sound design.
”If you’re a fan of having your wits tested, and you have the patience to sit back and look at the whole picture, you will be hard pressed to find another game quite as compelling as The Swapper. "
The Swapper begins with your nameless character being ejected from a spaceship, via its escape pod, sending you crashing into the planet below. Once you make your way to an abandoned research facility on the planet, you come across a device that is aptly named, the Swapper. This device allows you to create a clone of yourself, but seeing as your clone is a mindless variation, it can only move as you do, when you do. If you move to the left, they move to left. If you jump, they jump. You can place your clone anywhere you want, but always keep in mind, it will act exactly the same way you do. Once you have clones placed accordingly, you’re able to "swap your mind" with each one as long as you have them within your line of sight. Planning on how you will get your clone(s) where they need to be while you're all moving at the same time is incredibly challenging, and it's highly rewarding when you do see and realize that you’re about to crack the puzzle.
As you progress further into the game (and into madness!), new elements will be added to each puzzle, such as different colored lights that’ll prevent you from creating clones (blue lights) and/or swapping between clones (red lights) in certain areas. There are switch panels that you must find ways to place your clones on in order to disable these lights. To make things harder, you’re only allowed to create four clones at once, so you have to really think about where you’re placing them. There are multiple ways to remove clones from the puzzle, such as if you come into contact with one, or simply walking them off a high ledge and letting them fall to their demise, and you will need to utilize this tactic in order to stay within the four clone limit. Keep in mind, removing clones from the equation can be just as helpful as creating them.
”Planning on how you will get your clone(s) where they need to be while you're all moving at the same time is incredibly challenging, and it's highly rewarding when you do see and realize that you’re about to crack the puzzle."
As fun and mind-bending as the puzzles can be, it’s the thought-provoking narrative that’s worth paying attention to. Once you teleport back up to the Theseus, the ship you were jettisoned from at the beginning of the game, the story begins to unfold. There are memory terminals located throughout the entire ship that contain transmissions between the now wiped-out crew that once inhabited the research facility below and their employers back home. The Theseus was one of three ships that were sent out to gather resources for their home planet. In the midst of this mission, the crew discovers massive rocks that harness some sort of alien intelligence that’s able to communicate with the humans by means of telepathy. While studying these rocks and gathering whatever information they can from them, they end up experimenting and creating the Swapper device. I don’t want to get into the story any further because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. Needless to say, this isn’t your typical filler story you’d expect from most 2D platform-puzzlers. If you take the time to read all of the message terminals, as well as the ten ridiculously well hidden memory logs, there is a great story here that will have you thinking long after you've beaten the game.
Just to touch on the presentation I mentioned earlier, The Swapper relies heavily on it’s sound to create the uneasiness of being alone in space. It’s both eerie and beautiful at the same time. It definitely borrows atmospheric tropes from the game Dead Space, but not enough to feel like it’s a rip-off. At no point do you feel like you’re about to get ripped apart by a terrifying alien, but you do get the feeling that something very bad has happened on the Theseus, and it’s probably in your best interest to solve these puzzles quickly in hopes of avoiding the same fate as the previous crew. In terms of the gameplay, there are elements from other puzzlers present such as Stealth Inc. and Portal 2, which are two great games to draw inspiration from. I played the game on both the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation Vita, and while the game runs and plays great on the latter, I’d still recommend the PlayStation 4 version for your initial play-through; if only for the increased frame rate, the added bonus of surround sound, and a few minor controller benefits such as being able to click down on R3 to turn your character around quickly.
”If you take the time to read all of the message terminals, as well as the ten ridiculously well hidden memory logs, there is a great story that will have you thinking long after you've beaten the game. "
Curve Studios has been responsible for bringing many well-received, very popular games to the PlayStation ecosystem, and The Swapper continues that trend in grand fashion. Featuring some of the toughest, but most rewarding puzzles, I’ve encountered in a game, a chilling atmosphere, and a fascinating narrative, I can’t think of one thing I disliked about this game, other than that it had to end eventually. If you missed out on the discount offered during the pre-order period of the PlayStation Play 2014 program, that’s quite all right, this game is well worth the full price of admission.
It’s one of the best games you’ll play this year.
- Challenging, well-designed puzzles that require a plenty of thought
- Excellent sound
- A great narrative that's easy to overlook
- Diverse level design
- It ends
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