Review: The Swapper

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I know what you’re thinking, and no, this isn’t some weird sex thing. It’s weird, but in a way that gets the gears in your head turning about existence and identity. It’s also a puzzle platformer, one of the good ones like Braid where its mechanics and story are finely intertwined to make a meaningful, unified experience. That really should be enough to sell anyone on The Swapper, but I’ll happily go through the details for anyone holding out on this excellent title.

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You play an unnamed astronaut, unceremoniously ejected from a science station onto a barren mining colony. There you find the game’s namesake, a device that can create perfect clones of you AND swap your consciousness between them. If you’re thinking that opens a whole can of philosophical worms, the inhabitants of the station and colony would agree (if they hadn’t mysteriously vanished). As you puzzle your way back onto the station, you’ll learn plenty about the device aiding you, its part in the disappearance of your peers, and the creeping existentialist horror therein.

In terms of game mechanics, this is a straight puzzle game. The first few areas introduce the Swapper and its two functions, and the rest of the game challenges you to solve convoluted rooms using those same functions. The fine details help flesh out some of the puzzles; for example, your clones mimic your moves perfectly, so some puzzles call for careful clone choreography across pressure plates or platforms. Aiming a new clone also slows down time, allowing you to make fine adjustments and precise swaps for time-intensive puzzles. There are two kinds of light that can block your abilities as well, along with some gravity shenanigans to spice things up.

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Solving puzzles earns you “security orbs” which are used to unlock doors and activate important systems. In truth they function like Mario 64 stars, where you have hubs of puzzle rooms and need like 75% of the available orbs to progress, and those margins shrink as you get near the end of the game. There are logs to read, mysterious stones to examine, and some scattered cutscenes that progress the story, but much of what you’re doing is moving from hub to hub, solving puzzles.

This leads to the station feeling less like a functional place and more like a funhouse, but that’s seriously my only knock against the incredible atmosphere. While the story and mechanics would by themselves set The Swapper apart as an excellent title, the shadowy corridors and brooding, ambient soundtrack take it to another level. The graphics are all real-world models made from everyday materials like tin cans and styrofoam, but blended together to give an otherworldly yet photo-realistic feel to the station. The detailed textures make the stark lighting pop, and the sharply contrasting colors lend heavily to the unease of the derelict halls.

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I’m easily won over by games that have unique plots that they explore fully, but The Swapper starts there and crafts a magnificent experience around its hook. It’s similar in some ways to SOMA, touching on the same themes in environments meant to isolate and unsettle you. You’ll only get about two hours out of this one, unfortunately, but there some of the best two hours to be found among puzzle platformers, or really any genre. Seriously, don’t let any game this polished or intelligent pass you by.

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