Review: The Swapper (Sony Playstation 3)

6 mins read

Review by Jedediah H.

Even though science fiction tends to scream a cautionary tale when portraying and playfully examining the ethical and biotechnological aspects of cloning, I find the concept, the ethical and philosophical arguments, and the science to be fascinating.

To imagine that, possibly in the not-to-distant future, I could have a copy of myself engineered at a molecular level, and that said copy would not only share my pinched jawline, but maybe my fear of arachnids, and my memory of the girl who got away (she ran away, giggling, actually) is downright spellbinding. It’s partially because of this fascination that I find The Swapper to be so completely mesmerising.

Isolation, desolation, and exploration – all of which are pleasantly “Metroidvania” – are the motifs in this space-based puzzle platformer. As an unnamed protagonist who jogs aboard a deep space outpost, Theseus, your character acquires a cloning gun, the titular Swapper: the key to solving puzzles, avoiding death, slowing down time while aiming, and travelling distances that no Olympic high jumper in zero gravity could ever condition herself to cover.

To enable these impressive feats, the gun has two primary functions: it can produce up to four clones of the player at all firing distances, and it allows the player to swap between these clones, so long as they’re within line of sight and not obstructed by a wall or the illumination of red, blue, or purple light sources, the gun’s only restraints when trying to obtain orbs that allow deeper access into the outpost’s more secretive areas.

The cloning gun, and the puzzles and restraints that are designed around it are figuratively orgasmic, literally brilliant when paired with the way clones mimic the actions of the player. Say you create one clone on the ledge above and another clone a few meters ahead of your character: whatever movements you input – moving left, right, and jumping continuously like an attention-seeking dunce – the clones will mirror. So you have to delve deep into your imagination and cunningness to visualise and experiment with clone placement in order to take full advantage of the swap feature, which is prohibited by aforementioned red and purple light sources. Not to mention that time slows to a beneficially slow rhythm any time you aim, meaning that when you fall from a knee-crunching height, you can aim your gun with plenty of time to create and swap to a fresh, new clone right before the protagonist’s “old” body crumples into a stack of wheezing redundancy.

And speaking of death and clones, the masterfully minimalistic narrative never explicitly passes judgement on the ethicalness of cloning or the utilitarian method of using clones strictly as a tool to achieve your objective. Rather, with the aid of initially cryptic messages and splendid, quality voice acting, the game has a likelihood of channelling the player’s bias to the character, as it did with me.

For example, any time a clone was brutally killed, I felt a punch of regret and sadness at the loss of life, especially when death was quickly escaped by swapping to a clone, leaving the body I had just inhabited no longer operational (that is, a crumpled stack of wheezing redundancy). I was just inside that body. Now it’s gone. Does this mean a part of me has perished along with it? The game had me concerned over each death without ever labelling me a murderer or, inversely, a victim of circumstance, and this reflects not only the high calibre of the narrative but the confidence the developer had in the player’s ability to infer from ambiguous information, and express emotions without being told how to feel. Simply, the game assumes you’re intelligent rather than talking down to you as though you’re a base-impulse consumer, a quality I appreciate and thank the developer for.

There’s too much more I could get into with this gem of a game, such as its existential philosophy and how it connects with linguistic theory, or the environments modelled from clay that are beautiful in their bleakness, but I should hold off for now. All you need to know is this: The Swapper is a puzzle game with an intellect that bridges between its game-play and narrative. Few games are this intelligent, and even fewer hold the player in such high intellectual regard. Plus it’s fun, and nearly impossible to put down.

– Jedediah H.

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