[edit]paragraphs fixed. That’s what I get for copy-pasting formatted text into WP.

Even though I don’t think I’ve remembered more than a couple of his birthdays since about 1999, Rik was kind enough to get me the Swapper for my own a month or so ago. Here are a few thoughts:


It’s a puzzle-based platformer, casting you as an un-named astronaut lost on an abandoned space station. A central feature is a tool that lets you create clones of yourself – up to four at a time – that copy your exact moments. Run to the left, jump, etc, they do that too. You can also transfer your consciousness from one body to another – the “prime” body is the only one that can move between rooms, or pick up the orbs you need to unlock further areas of the station. The death of that real you means a fail and trying the room again, whereas other clones are disposable.

Puzzles then are usually based around somehow getting the Real You into a position to get an orb somewhere in a chamber. So a simple situation might be, having two clones standing on pressure switches to open two doors that block the way. You set one up in the right place, then have to figure out how to get the second in position without having the first move away.

What makes matters complicated is, the cloning and swapping functions need a clear line of sight. As well as physical obstructions, there are different coloured lights that each block one function but not the other. So you might be able to get a clone in the right place to grab an orb, but then you have to figure out how to transfer to them.

So far I’ve found the puzzles about the right level of challenge – there have been a few rooms where I was utterly baffled for fifteen minutes thinking that it simply wasn’t physically possible. Then I had the sort of moment of clarity that makes puzzle games so rewarding. (even if also the nagging feeling that smarter folks would have done it in half the time).

The game also has bucketfuls of atmosphere – it’s gloomy and a bit creepy on the station, a mix of metal corridors, alien undergrowth and chambers that almost look church-like. There are few active threats, apart from hazards to fall into, but there’s still a sense of something ominous. Along the way you encounter crew logs that give you a bit of a clue as to what’s taken place, along with one very erratically behaving survivor. Then telepathic rocks start talking to you in your head. Which, as I type this I realise sounds dumb, but it’s pretty spooky when it happens. They represent some sort of sentience so alien and far removed from us that they basically perceive only a realm of pure thought, and are rather baffled by the concept of physical reality.

Throughout this the gadget that shoots your mind around, and the backstory of its development, is used to raise questions about the nature of consciousness. Are our minds just a by product of physical functions of our brains? Or something more than that? Also we might wonder, even if we could through technology gain the ability to manipulate and tamper with consciousness, is it a good idea to do so?

That question is highlighted in a particularly chilling way when you realise something possibly quite terrible you’re doing, not even as some key plot event, but just as a part of the standard gameplay. Remember I said those clones are disposable? You’re basically creating and then murdering people, several at a time, just to open doors. The body count by the end is horrendous. I don’t yet know if these clones have consciousnesses of their own, and I’d be scared to find out. On the one hand, they lack any sign of control of themselves, mimicking your every move. But, the device that beams your mind into them is called the “swapper”, which to me implies a two-way exchange.

So there’s a sense of faint horror in the background, or at least something rather unsettling. Which together with the moody environments and the solid puzzling make this a rather worthwhile experience. I struggle to keep up with indie games, but I’m glad I actually paid attention to Rock Paper Shotgun’s recommendations for once.