Of all the difficult subjects broached in a medium known for its lack of subtlety, psychological horror is among the toughest. While jump scares in Dead Space and Resident Evil offer momentary terror, the monsters stay trapped on the disc or hard drive when the game is turned off. True psychological horror doesn’t respect the boundaries of the physical; it seeps into your thoughts with concepts, ideas and questions that are too big to inhabit even the creepiest “bump in the night” beings. This potent, tangible fear has especially flourished in low-budget science fiction, so it’s only fitting that The Swapper’s clay-hewn space station invaded my dreams.
It’s almost impossible to discuss The Swapper without treading into major spoiler territory; the titular device is both an integral part of the gameplay and a crucial piece of the story. It can create up to four clones of the wielder and “swap” between each clone within the line of fire (i.e. possession). There are a few more rules to prevent the unruly from breaking anything, but the core tenets of cloning and swapping are the bases behind the numerous Braid-esque puzzle rooms. It often involved chunks of time devoted to trial and error, but once I crafted a workable solution, it was hard not to bolt out of my chair and triumphantly pump my fists.
Since most of the game remains off-limits to the uninitiated, it’s worth mentioning The Swapper’s handcrafted style. Almost everything was meticulously molded from clay and other real-world materials, effortlessly fostering a sense of immersion that even the most technically-proficient AAA game struggles to create. Like the Nostromo or Millennium Falcon, the scrappy pieces holding the Theseus together adds a real-world connection to the fiction, allowing its grim reality to root itself to an air of believability.
The Swapper juggles two difficult challenges with a deftness rarely seen in gaming; it spins a bleak, cautionary yarn while simultaneously breaking and building spirits with devious yet sensible puzzles. Even at 400 words, it already feels like I’ve said too much; if the promise of an amazing horror/puzzler in the dark confines of space does anything for you, it’s best if you stop reading, avoid all trailers and screenshots and take a chance on The Swapper. True psychological terror is a rare dish best left unspoiled by trivial YouTube LPs and an unfortunate drive to destroy every secret through oversharing.