Games from indie outfit Curve Studios seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment, with the recent release of charming puzzler MouseCraft grabbing the imagination of critics and users alike; not to mention their open-world exploration game Proteus being made available for free to Playstation Plus subscribers on the PS3 this month.
The latest title to join Curve’s fledgling – but impressive – back catalogue is The Swapper, originally developed by Facepalm Games and released on PC last year to relatively little fanfare, though its critical acclaim has been undeniable. Its addictive gameplay and beautiful atmospherics certainly caught our attention when it was showcased at the EGX Rezzed Expo back in March, and we were glad to see its PS4 port, handled by Curve, finally hit the digital shelves this week.
Similarly to MouseCraft, The Swapper is a puzzle game with a simple premise: collect the orbs to move on to the next area. You can do so by cloning yourself, the titular astronaut, up to four times using one of the left shoulder buttons and each clone will move, grab and jump in tandem with the original. Players must therefore plan ahead and think where to place each clone and what their role will be in the current challenge. Aiming at a clone and hitting one of the right shoulder buttons will make that clone the primary player, moving the original’s consciousness to become player one, as it were.
There are limitations along the way, such as coloured areas that limit the use of one of your abilities as well as several other clever obstacles we’ll let you discover on your own.
As has become the norm in Curve’s recent puzzle games, the tasks thrown at players initially seem utterly impossible; merely seconds before they become stupidly obvious. The Swapper is certainly tricky and will have you racking your brain for a solution – sometimes for several minutes – but the game is never difficult to the point where it’s annoying or frustrating; indeed, you’re generally left patting yourself on the back for successfully finding the correct method of advancing. It’s that satisfying feeling we’ve become accustomed to in titles such as Thomas Was Alone and Stealth Inc.: A Clone In The Dark.
The gloomy, dark atmosphere sets the tone for our lonely protagonist. There’s a chill in the air, set by the slow, eerie music throughout each area of the abandoned spaceships and destroyed sci-fi inspired facilities. The visuals are in an effective claymation style and the clones have a ragdoll effect when they die, which can be both cringeworthy and amusing at the same time; providing a little comic relief within this otherwise bleak world.
Parts of the environment are built out of household objects – whether they be pipe cleaners or tin cans – and in places they have a certain feeling of LittleBigPlanet about them; if you can imagine that franchise without any of the bright colours and cheerful settings, that is. It’s admittedly an odd-sounding combination but it all works and comes together nicely to form an engrossing game that will have you admiring each new area and the depth it offers.
One issue we noted in our MouseCraft review was how many complications and additional items were thrown at players, especially early on. It became a lot to take in and seemed the developers threw every idea they had into the game. Thankfully, that’s not an issue here. The pace of The Swapper is a lot slower with a balanced difficulty curve, and there aren’t new obstacles added every other level for players to get to grips with. The drawback of this is that it does mean a lot of levels rely on switches and box-pushing, which can get a little tedious, but no two puzzles are that similar to the extent that it feels repetitive or boring. Some of the challenges are ingenious where others feel a bit crazy and have unbelievable solutions. Either way, The Swapper will keep you on your toes and the cogs of your mind ticking throughout.
There is a story to the game as well; a rare inclusion amongst the majority of puzzle-based games. As you discover new areas, especially in the early stages, text will appear on screen and you’ll activate terminals of transcripts; neither of which make much sense. This does feel like it gets in the way at the beginning of the game when all you want to do is create clones, solve a mystery and move on.
The plot, however, does become tighter and take centre stage later on; reminding players that these are real people you’re creating and killing. The ending may leave some players a little unsatisfied but it will also leave you with a philosophical thought or two and the journey is well worth it.
Like previous titles from Curve, the game is both cross-buy and cross-save between PS3, PS4 and PS Vita; opening up the title to a much larger audience than recent Playstation 4-exclusive indie releases.
The Swapper may not be something completely new in that it pulls ideas from titles that came before it – there’s a definite air of Braid here – but to cast this clone-generating adventure as merely a clone itself would be unfair; it undoubtedly stands on its own merit as one of the best action-puzzlers in recent memory. The controls are easy to pick up and play and though the overall experience might not be as long as we’d hoped, it’s a very enjoyable one while it lasts.