Title: The Swapper
System(s): PS4 (Also on PS3, Vita, PC)
Release Date: August 5, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Facepalm Studios (Facepalm Studios)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone 10+” for Mild Violence and Mild Language
The question of how the mind might differ from the body is one that philosophers have pondered for ages. Neuroscientists have had trouble isolating exactly what this idea of the mind is, but most believe it’s a matter of logic and not some otherworldly phenomenon. Some futurists believe that it will be possible within decades to emulate the mind of a specific individual in a process they call “whole brain emulation.” They also sometimes refer to it as mind uploading, and the entire hypothetical practice is seen as the logical endpoint of computational neuroscience. Naturally, this practice is one that comes with an entire slew of ethical quandaries. Quandaries like, should we, as a species, really have made a Johnny Depp movie based on this premise?
Probably not, so it’s a good thing Facepalm Games developed a counterpoint to the aforementioned atrocity in the form of The Swapper, a thoughtful, multi-platform puzzle game.
Swap, in the Name of Love
A large portion of The Swapper‘s evocative story is uncovered through a sort of archaeological data mining. What the player garners from computer logs and a few more explicit pieces of storytelling eventually weaves the tale of the doomed crew of Theseus. While interesting, this tale isn’t directly linked with the player character’s primary objective; escape the strange derelict ship he has found himself stranded on.
Without revealing too much, Theseus was once a supply shuttle for a much larger space station. This station was one of many that essentially functioned as supply outposts for humans who had depleted Earth’s natural resources and needed to expand their excavating habits into space in order to survive.
The player character discovers early on that ultimate fate of the Theseus was a result of their cargo; a seemingly innocuous bunch of rocks. These rocks were able to influence the dreams of the crew and an ensuing investigation revealed that the rocks possessed electro-chemical responses that were at least on par with human sentience. From these electro-chemical responses, a gun-like device capable of cloning physical bodies and transferring sentience between them is synthesized. The device is aptly named the Swapper.
Once You Swap, The Fun Don’t Stop
The Swapper isn’t just the item at the core of the games mechanics, but is uniquely capable of turning the player into a symbol of sentience; a centerpiece to the game’s main theme. Puzzles are solved by creating up to four clones of the player who will then mimic player input. Which one of the bodies is considered the player is swapped through the secondary fire of the device. This body will be the one that prompts game over if it is destroyed. It will also be the only body that can migrate its sentience, so other bodies mustn’t be obscured by the environment if the player is aiming to relocate.
The game also plays around with light as an obstacle. Blue light will inhibit the production of clones while red light will block the path of the swapping functionality. But, for the most part, the player is able to use swapping and cloning freely. In fact, through the constant production of cloning and swapping, players can scale large, vertical areas through the perpetual creation and destruction of host bodies. It’s like flying, but fueled by corporeal death. But it’s all ok, since they’re merely carbon copies, right?
As the game progresses, treadmills and gravity puzzles complicate the steps and timing needed to conquer puzzles. As a result, the later game can feel intensely satisfying. Early game, however, takes a while to get going and the first 30 or so minutes feel like an unjustified tutorial with a series of monotonous, simple puzzles. Completing puzzles results in the player gaining an orb that can be used to progress through the Metroidvania-esque map.
Atmospherically, the game feels reminiscent of Limbo. While not monochromatic, the lighting in the grim, coffin of a spaceship is plainly careful and goes far towards conjuring the intended state of mind. The music is what you would expect from a game like this, quiet and sometimes haunting.
Don’t Swap Believin’
There’s a reason that The Swapper has been released on so many platforms. Made by two college students, The Swapper has already received near universal acclaim. If a player can push through the tiresome early levels, the game will hit its stride and offer contemplative, zen-like moments of enveloping problem solving. The story and its method of delivery, the game’s themes, and the aesthetic appeal are perfect complements to the primary mechanics.
With so many options in platform and a relatively low price-point, it would be hard not to justify purchasing The Swapper.