Also On: PS4, PS3, PC
Publisher: Curve Studios
Developer: Facepalm Games
I was struggling with getting my mind around The Swapper until I ventured over to Metacritic and found the perfect way to think about it. Not in terms of whether or not I liked it — I was quite sure I loved it before I saw what anyone else had to say — but rather in terms of what to compare it to. I was trying to think of what other puzzle-platformers it reminded me of, when the fact was, I needed to think a little more broadly.
The creepy atmosphere, the slow pace, the tense music, the ambiguous story: sure, there are some games that feature all those things, but to really bring them all together, you need to look to the big screen, to films like 2001:A Space Odyssey or, better still, Moon. You know, claustrophobic films set in space where a strange dread hovers over everything, even when it's not immediately apparent why. That, in a nutshell, is what The Swapper seems to draw its inspiration from. Between its sparse soundtrack and its moody lighting (to say nothing of the graphics, which fall somewhere between lifelike and stop-motion claymation), this is a game that knows how to create and sustain an atmosphere.
Of course, seeing as The Swapper is a game and not a film, it needs a little more than just amazing aesthetics to be successful. Luckily, it delivers on that front as well. It's a top-notch puzzle-platformer, one that isn't afraid to make things a little challenging almost right from the get-go. Considering how much I usually don't like games that drop you in the deep end right off the bat, I'm a little surprised to find myself saying this, but…well, here we are. Clearly, The Swapper's developers believe that players will rise to whatever challenges you throw in front of them if you just give them the right tools, and more often than not, their faith is justified. The mechanics here are pretty easy to pick up, but also adaptable enough to be useful in levels that very quickly get progressively harder.
That said, for me it all comes back to the atmosphere. Without it, of course, The Swapper would still be fine; it'd be like a less interesting version of Stealth Inc., to be sure, but it would still be worth playing. Factor in the whole moody (Moon-y?) vibe, though, and suddenly the game jumps up to a whole other level. Like the films it seems to draw inspiration from, it takes on an artistic sheen — and like both of those movies, it's a look the game wears very, very well.