THE SWAPPER is good

My thoughts on games and making them. Mostly.

THE SWAPPER is good

I just finished playing The Swapper by Facepalm Games this morning. It hit me just right. Each individual piece of the game is great, and they fit together so well.

To start with, the art style is incredible. Everything is textured like… faded rocks? Bones of some sort? Clay? Little hand-made aluminum models? It’s totally unique and compelling. I wanted to touch it. There’s some great architecture in the game, too. It’s set in a space station, and the vistas you get out the windows into the world beyond are worth stopping and watching as you make your way from puzzle to puzzle. Just a gorgeous game of asteroids, air locks, and mood lighting.

A lonely astronaut exploring a cavern

Then there’s the story. I’m not a sci-fi fan by any means, but I was drawn in by The Swapper’s world. You’re an astronaut trapped on an abandoned space station. Naturally you have to solve puzzles and collect doo-dads to unlock rooms and eventually find your way home. But driving all of this is some really smart writing. Specifically:

  • Nothing is over explained. The environmental story bits leave enough to your imagination and don’t hit you over the head with backstory.
  • The story driving scenes are short. In fact, most are done in background narration while you are still free to move about the cabin.
  • Most (all?) of the scientists are women.
  • Your character never talks.
  • The sci-fi aphorisms were appropriately poetic and not overly cliche.

For me, it’s refreshing to put down a novel, pick up a console game, and not feel like my brain is being starved for oxygen and that the authors assume I’m 12 years old.

Lastly, there are the puzzles. The game is made up of a bunch of set-piece puzzles with a straight-forward enough premise: step on the switches in the right order to unlock the path to the MacGuffin. Of course, there is a twist. Instead of moving blocks or defeating enemies, you solve puzzles by creating and then *swapping into* clones of yourself. Hence the game’s name.

Placing a clone on a high ledge

Placing a clone with the Swapper

All clones move right and left in sync, but only the one you inhabit can use the Swapper ray gun / flashlight. So to solve puzzles you may create a clone in one part of the puzzle and then swap to it to create a second clone in an area that your first body couldn’t reach with the Swapper. As for the puzzles themselves, I found them appropriately challenging and only had to look online for a few, but of course the difficulty may be different for all players. A hint system would’ve been nice and could go a long way to making the puzzles more accessible to all players.

However, the real beauty of the puzzles is that they raise questions central to the game’s theme. Is killing your clones wrong? Are you your clones? Are you a “you” at all?

This could have easily veered into cliche, but I found it dealt with such a deft hand that was very enjoyable even if not mind-bending with philosophical insight. The times when I left my clones for dead or heard their crunch after a big fall definitely held weight.

All in all, I’m going to be thinking about this game for a while. The art is gorgeous, the writing is smart, and the puzzles are not only challenging but tie everything together in rare form.

Oh, also, there’s a great ending to the whole thing. It’s too good to spoil here so you’ll have to discover it for yourself. And then talk to me on twitter about it.