August 13, 2014 by Paul Curtin
By itself, Facepalm Games’ puzzle-solving is enough to satisfy those looking for a cerebral challenge, but the indie developers have managed to use the cloning mechanic to also dive deep into dark science fiction and tell a captivating story that tests players by making them question beliefs about the human mind, body, and soul.
Considering the complexity of such big questions, gameplay is surprisingly quite simple. From the start, the protagonist is forced to use a gun called the “swapper,” which has the power to create four clones of the wielder. The player must place these clones strategically in order to swap to them and reach areas that a single clone couldn’t do by herself.
Each clone moves exactly the same once they’ve been spawned — move two steps to the right or jump up and all your copies will do the same — making precise formations tricky to set up and requiring a lot of patience and strategy. With the swapper gun only capable of making four clones, players must learn how to utilize each clone’s position as best they can before running out of swaps. Many times the protagonist is even forced to dispose of her clones in order to reposition them better, leading to more questions about the morality of killing other versions of yourself and exactly who is the real version after so many duplicates have been made and swapped in to.
Puzzles are easy at first and consist of spawning a single clone and swapping to her in order to reach orbs that must be collected in each zone. Once the game gives the player some time to learn the basic mechanics of swapping, the learning curve continues to increase with puzzles that require more clones and much more thought.
As the player, you have the ability to pick which puzzles to solve on your own time, which is a great system for such a challenging game. But this is also where things can sometimes get a bit frustrating because some puzzles require a completely different tactic than the previous ones. Since players can pick which puzzles they go to, it can get confusing whether you’re just too stupid in the moment to solve the puzzle or if you might need to go somewhere else first to get a new ability or upgrade.
After a while, it becomes apparent that there are no upgrades and that you’ll need to go back and use new techniques you’ve learned to solve what you previously thought wasn’t possible. There’s nothing more frustrating than being stuck on a puzzle you can’t solve and not being able to progress further because of it. So while it can be a little confusing and even frustrating at first, the ability to choose your own way through a simple map system is a great solution to getting stuck and fed up with playing a challenging puzzle game.
Although most of the game is fun, I did, however, find myself stuck on a few challenges as the puzzles began to increase in difficulty. After the easy stuff is out of the way, the game begins to throw in other factors such as blue, red, and purple lights that prevent swaps in certain areas and multiple triggers that require clones to be placed on in order to turn off the lights. Still, puzzles are rarely unfair or upsetting to the point of wanting to totally give up.
I would have preferred taking more time to solve each puzzle, but for the sake of getting this review done a little faster, I had to make that difficult decision to seek outside help a couple times when stuck. I suggest others don’t because the satisfaction of solving the puzzles on your own is what makes great puzzle games like The Swapper so rewarding and realizing how easy it was once you know how makes you want to facepalm yourself for not taking your time over the course of the game’s 5-7 hours of playtime.
Aside from the story and puzzles, what really brings The Swapper together is its brilliant use of atmospheric sounds, majestic music, and unique visuals. Facepalm’s use of clay models that were scanned in 3D and imported into the game creates an artistic and realistic 2D look and feel that’s both foreign and familiar at the same time. Scary and unsettling when it wants to put the player in a state of uneasiness. Majestic and mesmerizing when it wants you to be in awe. The developer’s perfect blend of sight and sound always sets an appropriate mood for the game’s atmosphere.
Facepalm’s puzzle platformer is beautiful and brilliant in every way. A must-play for fans of the puzzle genre and even for those who aren’t and just love to explore. Clearly inspired by other amazing games like Portal and Limbo, The Swapper never feels like a clone of either of the two. The Swapper is easily able to stand alone as its own unforgettable and unique experience that will surely one day also be copied by other great games attempting to recapture its magic and explore new ideas. ” The Swapper gets 4.5 out of 5 stars (Amazing).
- Brilliant gameplay mechanics
- Challenging puzzles
- Perfect blend of sight and sound
- Thought-provoking story
- Unique visual design
- Story gets a little confusing towards the end
- Unclear at times if new abilities are needed for some puzzles