While not the oldest game I'm currently playing (that honor goes to Suikoden), The Swapper is hardly a new release. It originally launched on PC in 2013, PlayStation platforms in August 2014, and Wii U in November 2014. However, with Sony's PS Plus program featuring it as a free game last month (January 2014), I'm just now playing catch-up.
If you're not up-to-speed on the game, picture a Metroid-esque 2D platformer with a "swapping" gun mechanic that allows your character to create four simultaneous clones (all of which move together) and then swap freely between them. While the atmosphere would make Samus Aran feel right at home, the gameplay has more of Portal than of Power Bombs (in fact, don't expect to be blasting any aliens at all). Using the right control stick, you can aim a cursor around the screen to place clones and/or swap to them, making for some mind-bending environmental puzzles (which, incidentally, sums up the game's genre—in case you were wondering).
Right away, I was drawn to the aesthetics and the ambience: playing PS4 looks absolutely fantastic with wonderful lighting and shadows. The sound is top-notch, too, and helps sell the overall experience with a minimalist score and chilling sound effects (including a mysterious other explorer who occasionally talks to you with well-voiced dialogue). Developer Facepalm Games nailed it in the presentation department.
The feel of the game, however, immediately concerned me; as with many of today's physics-based platformers, The Swapper's protagonist feels a little sluggish when walking, has a very floaty jump (Little Big Planet says "hello"), and the right stick cursor has a weird momentum to it that takes some time to master.
The weirdest thing that will probably jump out to any new player is that the game uses a 2D version of Resident Evil's "tank" controls: if you're facing right, pushing left on the left stick makes you walk backward instead of turning around. You'll need to actually drag the cursor to the left of the character to turn him around go in that direction. It's not intuitive, but it actually serves a purpose as the game progresses.
In fact, almost all of the weird control scheme choices actually do end up making sense and after 15-20 minutes of playing, I felt totally comfortable with general movement and began to master more advanced swapping techniques. And, really, that's where the game gets going the most (and where it shares the most similarity with Portal). The first time you realize you can create a clone above an otherwise-unreachable ledge and then instantly swap to that clone, your mind starts to open with possibilities of how to use this mechanic in interesting ways.
Much like other environmental puzzlers (e.g. Braid; Portal; Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark), the majority of the action happens in small, contained rooms in which you must obtain a hard-to-reach orb by navigating your way to it. While you can create up to four clones, only the character you're actively controlling (the one that can make additional clones) can collect the orb, so it's not as easy as just dropping clone on top of the orb. Additionally, these rooms feature carefully placed lights (blue lights block cloning while red lights block swapping), which adds plenty of depth and chances for the player to feel quite clever upon solving a room.
The gameplay is obviously the biggest hook in a game like The Swapper, but I've also enjoyed the unobtrusive story, which is told organically a few different ways: the aforementioned other character (whose allegiance is uncertain), found notes and memos, old announcements running through the derelict space stations P.A. system, and giant, sentient rocks who seem to communicate telepathic notes when you walk past them.
Yep, you read that correctly: talking rocks. Intrigue!
If you grabbed this one during last month's PS Plus offerings, but haven't played it, I can absolutely recommend giving it a try. If you didn't get it for free on PlayStation (or you have a Wii U), then the $19.99 price tag is a little steep, but you are getting a very well-crafted, polished, and thoughtful game for your money.