Released at some point last year, The Swapper flew under my radar and straight into my Steam library without my notice. It’s still gone unplayed, but now it’s graced the Playstation Vita, it was time to get swapping.
Set in a destroyed spaceship, you’re a lone person left to investigate the reason behind the rather empty and broken station, while also trying to find a way out. I think. The Swapper’s story explains the necessities to you, like what the mysterious Watchers are – sort of – and leaving vague hints within terminal messages for you. The cause for the madness it seems, is the titular device, “The Swapper”, which allows cloning and ‘swapping’ between those clones.
It never dives into the ethics of cloning head on, but I felt that it left me as a player to perhaps feel something about the fact I had ditched several dozens of bodies to die (falling, being left behind, and prepresumably dematerializing or being vanished from existence when I passed a particular light) and that I had left the character’s ‘original’ body, now trapped within yet another clone. It’s this light touch on the subject that I appreciated the most about the bizarre and ambiguous story, because I was left to be haunted by the idea of constant murder of myself for my own personal gain of supposed survival, without much hamfisting of a true explanation.
The Swapper emits this creepy sci-fi vibe throughout, with the clay aesthetic and superb lighting within the different rooms you explore, meshing into this truly great sense of place. With this on its side, the fact that you’re constantly alone – other than a few story moments – with only the confusing words of The Watchers and the slow rise in ‘oh no’ moments appearing from terminal messages sent between the crew of this ship, The Swapper delivers on giving a certain vibe that is often lacking in sci-fi games, which is the unknown itself.
As a game, The Swapper is a puzzle platformer, in you navigate rooms of the ship to find a way off by tackling each individual room’s set of challenges. It’s a basic concept at its core and we’ve seen it all before, but the puzzles themselves are in that vein of making you feel clever. Figuring out that you can zip upwards with no platforming required, as you clone yourself and swap to ditch the previous body is my favourite example of how the game works: it just feels like it shouldn’t. Obviously, early puzzles are made to ease you into the process, but it’s the later puzzles and navigating the world with the new-found skills afterwards, it makes the basic exploration of the ship that much more fun than it would have been, just walking back and between areas.
The puzzles in the game never feel like a chore either. Each one follows a distinct pattern – mostly increasing the complexity on the base concept of that area’s theme – but failure is never an issue. There’s never a loading screen to face off with in death, other than a quick press of the X button and a flash to black (very similar to Limbo or Pid) and it always seems like the game is encouraging you to push the boundaries on what you know.
But what about the Vita? What has this version brought to the table? Well, not much it seems. Other than being able to play it in a portable fashion, the game itself looks fantastic on the smaller screen. There’s some touch controls implemented, which helps navigate menus better, but using it to turn or point doesn’t really work, what with the face buttons and other stick already available for use. It’s a great port and carries on Sony’s push for the ‘console experience on the go’ sort of thing that lurks in their corporate vision.
The Swapper is a fantastic puzzle game that constantly teaches you that you’re never done with just the base mechanics, while combining a fantastic look and ambiguous story to create this really cool, tight creepy world. Now that it’s on Vita, plugging in some headphones and phasing out the world to kill yourself while you collect orbs to teleport, is just a brilliant way to experience the game.