Sometimes it is impossible to classify a particular game. We all know Sony isn’t shy about bringing unique experiences to the PSN. Most of them coming from acclaimed developer thatgamecompany, but most do not know that they also contracted a team called Giant Sparrow for three games as well. The Unfinished Swan is the first game from the developer, and it blends in with the unique style of the aforementioned developer’s games. Truly this game looks and feels like nothing before it, and the journey you take will stick with you long after you finish the story.
The Unfinished Swan is told like a children’s storybook, complete with a comforting female narrator and page turning between chapters. You play as Monroe, a boy who recently lost his mother and has inherited all of her unfinished paintings. The orphanage you are sent to only allows you to keep one, and thus you choose her painting of an unfinished swan. One night, Monroe awakens to find the swan is missing from the painting and decides to jump in. This is where your journey begins.
If you have seen videos or screenshots of The Unfinished Swan, you probably have a good idea of the hook. I can promise you that there is much more here to discover, and I will do my best to keep things under wraps. The game starts you off in a completely white environment. You are given blobs of black paint, and the idea is to splatter them around to uncover the environment and work your way through. This is but one mechanic, and one heck of a way to start things off. The world is engrossing, and drew me into its fiction with small pieces of dialogue scattered about, discovered uncovering pages on the walls. The first time I stepped out and saw the king’s maze from a distance, I was in awe. The game is simply breathtaking from a visual standpoint.
It just goes to show that complex environments and texture mapping are not the only things that make games beautiful. When you can design with simplicity in mind, wonders can be achieved. I hate to sound like someone who immediately jumps on the indie bandwagon, but this game is truly gorgeous. As you progress through each chapter, the mechanics open up more. Instead of paint, splashing water causes vines to grow, while another stage forces you to keep a light on the surroundings at all times. I won’t spoil why or how these things work, but rest assured they are clever and kept me moving forward.
That is one thing about The Unfinished Swan that doesn’t translate well into a review. The game is short and never overly challenging. I never died while playing through the game, nor did I get stuck on any one puzzle for more than a few minutes. This isn’t about length or challenge. That isn’t what the game is about. It is all about Monroe’s journey, and when you get to the end, the game wraps it up with a neat little twist on the story. I loved the final chapter and seeing how things panned out. It is as unique as the game itself.
The Unfinished Swan does a fantastic job evoking emotion. I felt like a kid on the playground in the first area, while one of the later ones literally had me afraid to move forward. The game is in no way a survival horror experience, but the one chapter certainly had me in dread. There are also eureka moments that emerged constantly when I saw what the team accomplished with the different mechanics. It just really comes together on every front and forced me into the world.
While the main story is only about two hours long, it feels tight and purposeful. It never overstays its welcome, and frankly had it been any longer, it might have felt forced. There are reasons to go back. There are collectible balloons on every level that you can then use to unlock what the developers call toys from the main menu. These allow you to play around in the world with a firehose, or have a balloon radar to make collecting them easier. It is also fun to experience the story again after knowing the outcome, kind of like watching a movie with a twist to see how things are represented throughout.
The Unfinished Swan is a wonderful experience that drew me into its world and never lets go. I am still thinking about it long after finishing it, and that says a lot. The impact it leaves is memorable, and it will go down as one of the most unique experiences I have had this year. I recommend anyone who enjoys stepping outside the box of traditional gaming give it a chance. You will be surprised just how much it sticks with you long after the credits roll.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.