Have you ever come across the concept of the Ship of Theseus?
It describes a thought experiment concerning a ship, belonging to the Greek mythical figure Theseus. As the ship endured years of being displayed in Athens, certain components of it grew dilapidated and time-worn. Continually these were replaced as needed to preserve the ship. In due time, all of the former constituents had been discarded, having been switched for sturdier timber counterparts. The question is, now that none of the original pieces now compose the ship, is it still the real Ship of Theseus?
Another question could be, why is this even being mentioned at all? What should be discussed is The Swapper: a puzzle-platformer from indie developers Facepalm Games that oozes atmosphere so palpable you could almost squeeze it. Stepping foot aboard the deserted Space Station Theseus and being immediately enveloped by the chilling surroundings and ambient backdrop. The sound of footsteps reverberating beautifully in the expansive environment and seeing the main character dwarfed on the screen only augments the sense of apprehension. This game is a master-class in creating atmosphere, with all of these factors combining to create a phenomenal sensory experience. The Swapper also uses a rarely utilised visual style that enhances this experience: Claymation. This makes the game aesthetically more distinct, without compromising the overall impression that it conveys.
Eventually, the player will come across the titular device called the swapper. This introduces the mechanics that underpin all of the gameplay, ultimately being your key to exploring the expansive station and unearthing the story. The swapper can be used to create clones of yourself and then switch control over to them, allowing you to exploit their positions strategically to activate switches or collect orbs which allow you to progress through certain sections. However, only four clones can be created at any one time and they all mimic the actions of the player, adding an extra layer of complexity. The puzzle rooms themselves are dappled in coloured lights, with different colours corresponding to different limitations placed on the player, such as disabling either swapping and/or cloning. All of these elements create gameplay that is deceptively simple at first, but scales up to provide a genuinely challenging experience as the player becomes familiar with mechanics.
Now being armed with the tools you need, you can set out to explore the cavernous Theseus. While the atmosphere mentioned earlier was still present, it was soon joined by an immense sense of discovery reminiscent of ‘Metroidvania’ games as new biomes were unearthed across the map. Despite the immensity of the exploration space, the environment didn’t feel tiresome or sterile as each area displayed its own unique character. Slowly but surely, as a result of the excavations, the mysteries of Theseus and what events transpired began to unravel like a richly woven tapestry: where was everyone? What are the seemingly sentient rocks called “The Watchers”? The story is told mainly through logs which allows you to assemble the plot yourself.
So finally, why was the Ship of Theseus mentioned? The Swapper interweaves morals and myth seamlessly into its underlying themes to create a compelling and deep plotline. As evident by the settings namesake, this was Facepalm’s intention outright. After you have swapped between so many clones, and your consciousness has passed between so many new bodies can you honestly say that you are indeed yourself? Are you you?
The Swapper is definitely worth the time of fans of puzzling, or atmospheric games in general.
Images: credit to Facepalm Games and K putt