Game Review: The Swapper

If you could create completely obedient clones of yourself, what would be the ethical implications of doing so? What is the nature of consciousness? Do people have souls? What constitutes intelligence or knowledge? These are just some of the many questions posed as you play “The Swapper.”

Released in May of 2013, his ingenious science fiction puzzle platformer is the debut game of Finland-based developer Facepalm Games.

In “The Swapper,” you control an astronaut trapped on a space station. At the very beginning of the game, you discover a device that allows you to create up to four clones of yourself and swap control between them, allowing you to solve all of the nefarious puzzles thrown your way.

These puzzles are as mind-bending as the philosophical quandaries posed. Luckily for players, the difficulty ramps up at a gradual pace, allowing you to adjust to the new techniques you need to use to move forward.

“The Swapper” was the most involving game I’ve played in a while. I don’t often play a game straight through in one sitting, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the game’s melancholic world. The ambient music subtly sets the mood and the exclusive use of clay and other ordinary materials for all of the art in “The Swapper” makes the game world feel real, as if you could reach through the screen and touch it.

If I were to categorize “The Swapper” into another genre, I would say that it is a loneliness simulator. Despite the discovery that your character may not be the only being on the space station, I don’t think I’ve ever had the feeling of isolation so well conveyed through a game. Your footsteps echo through the chambers, lights flicker as though the station itself is dying away.

In theory, the clones you create would provide you with some company on the lonely space station. However, these clones that you can create at will and use to navigate the space station only serve to make the world seem more deserted. The clones are also quite eerie. As you swap between them, possessing them, you start to wonder who “you” are. Is that clone “you?” Are you “you?” You are forced to watch your clones die, over and over. Their bodies crunch as they fall from great heights or are crushed under large objects. Is that you dying? Or is it someone else?

As you progress, text logs left by previous crewmembers of the space station give you hints at what’s happening around you, but reading the logs usually just leads to more questions, both philosophical and practical ones. While you may only spend about five to six hours getting through the game itself, the thought-provoking questions it raises will likely haunt you for far longer.

“The Swapper” can be found on Steam and on Facepalm Games’ site for Windows. A Mac/Linux version is planned for release at a later date.