The Swapper Review & Giveaway
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It is because the standard of games as non-thinking mindless activities that makes any slightly thinking game seem better than it is. But, unlike my disappointment with Braid, I found The Swapper utterly captivating and simply sublime. I found myself actively taking notes throughout the game, to try and work out the basic concepts and to see where the game stands in this metaphysical debate. I just wanted to play through to the end to see what all the fuss was about.
Firstly, a disclaimer before I get more into the substantive. I am going to spoil plot points for you.
Question about the ending (spoilers, obviously) - The Swapper - Giant Bomb
I am going to discuss some of the ideas introduced later in the game. Go read one of my other blog posts, pretty please? The Swapper starts off with an opening sequence where you see a person, decked out in a space suit, being ejected from a ship off some kind of escape capsule.
The capsule lands, and you, the player-controlled character, emerge and enter a space ship. You are slowly introduced to the gameplay elements for the first 10 minutes. You pick up the swapper gun and learn that you can make up to four clones of yourself.
Later you pick up another component which allows you to swap places with your clones. The swapper device is bound to draw comparisons to another puzzle device which all you gamers know as the portal gun. It is very similar in the sense that it has two functions and those two functions allow you to complete the myriad of puzzles thrown at you. In fact, as far as comparisons to Portal go, the game is very much the same kind of fare where solving puzzles makes you feel incredibly clever.
The Swapper Review & Giveaway
Back to game mechanics. As you walk, all your clones walk and do identical actions to you. Now the puzzles in The Swapper range from fairly intuitively easy to mindboggling difficult. I will admit, I had to consult a walkthrough about half a dozen times because I just got stuck in certain rooms.The Swapper-PS4-The Ending-Stay On Planet.
Luckily, the game admits for some failure and you can finish the game without completing every room. The game ramps up the difficulty too at a steady pace by introducing new restrictions in the form of coloured lights. You have to cleverly navigate the small spaces, turn the lights on and off with boxes and switches, do quickly timed swaps and clone creation and even sometimes lure your clones to their death so you can free up another clone somewhere else.
Also, bringing two clones together into the same space will eliminate the extras, which can be another way to free up further clones. This introduces a whole new level of mindfuckery and allows for some truly creative puzzles. Overall, the puzzle element in this game is solid.
Some require a bit of trial and error, and others I just found impossible and discovered via walkthroughs that you need to do some very precise sequence of events in order to finish. But these are relatively few and far between; I solved the majority of puzzles within a few minutes.
The puzzles feel very well designed and nothing requires a great amount of skill to solve, just brainpower. Of course there are timed elements to it but because time slows down when you hold down the clone creation tool, these elements are pretty easy.
Ok, enough about the puzzles. Like I mentioned, the whole game is sculpted out of clay. This gives a tremendous feeling of texture and makes it all seem very solid.
The art design is just sublime. The style is haunting, very mysterious, with heavy sci-fi influences. It reminded me of Rapture from Bioshock 1. If you took out the splicers from Rapture and just made it an exploration game, you would get the same kind of feel as you find in The Swapper.
That hauntingly empty, slightly mysterious, slightly scary look that the game has is all enhanced by the beautiful ambient music. There are levels set in a garden-like area, where the foliage has overgrown and it all looks very alien but still pretty. There are some huge landscapes which involve you floating out in space to reach other areas of the ship, navigating your way through the space debris and admiring the view of the stars behind you.
Short and intricate piano tunes are tinkled out at low volumes, never overbearing, only enough is there to keep you immersed.
Add that to the overlays of text indicating words spoken or telepathically transmitted? What are their motives? Why are they directing you to do certain things? Because, spoiler alert, the other survivor is in fact, three minds in one body. The minds once belonged to Dr Chalmers, Dr Dennett who are, rather delightfully, female…reminds me of the scumbag philosopher meme: You are a clone, or are they a clone? The Swapper integrates this metaphysical conundrum seamlessly with the game play.
Who is the real you? How many clones did you watch fall to their deaths in order for you to reach your goal? The game pits a physicalist view consciousness is just a byproduct of physical processes, we are just our brains against the dualist view consciousness is immaterial, minds are separate from brains.
Some memory logs tell you about how The Watchers infected people on the ship, made them sick until they died. Other memory logs detail the conversations between Dr Chalmers who supports the dualist view and Dr Dennett who supports physicalism. Particularly when you finally see a flashback of Dr Chalmers and Dr Dennett and they are none other than…brains in a vat! After all, when you swap to a new clone, the other clones including your previous body become kind of mindless zombies, who just mimic your action but are incapable of making choices about movement for themselves.
As individuals, we still rely on large groups for survival. Our individuality does not make us self-sufficient. The game emphasizes the horror of separation with its somber mood. The Swapper is a quiet, painfully lonely game. You spend a vast majority of your time wandering the abandoned Theseus and solving solitary puzzles while a sparse soundtrack drones in the background.
Separation from the great chain of society naturally fills us with fear. We may be conscious individuals, but we still long to be part of a greater whole. Unfortunately for us, that longing will always go unfulfilled because we have a sense of self. When we meet the scientists that created the swapper device, they have a plan to take control of the rocks.
Swap into one, and use the power of their individuality to take over the hivemind. That distinction inevitably leads to a hierarchy, and in that hierarchy the original is always considered higher. A hivemind for individualistic humans is really more of forced servitude. During gameplay, your clone copies your every movement. The puzzles revolve around how to place clones around obstacles so that they all stand on certain buttons at the same time.
The puzzles are a kind of crowd management. In fact, many of the puzzles require sacrificing a clone to complete.
Question about the ending (spoilers, obviously)
We can thus avoid dying from a fall by creating a clone at ground level and then swapping into it a second before we hit the floor. We live, and the body that comes crashing down is just an empty cloned shell. The big story twist is that you are actually a clone as well.