The Unfinished Swan Review (PS3)
- Updated: October 15, 2012
The Unfinished Swan is a beautiful game. It’s like being inside a work of work of art while at the same time exploring the chaotic mind of the artist. It’s beautiful, emotional, memorable and heart-breaking.
Developed by Giant Sparrow, part of SCE Santa Monica Studio who were also responsible for thatgamecompany’s incomparable Journey, this again is a gaming experience like no other.
If you’ve read anything about The Unfinished Swan’s main game play mechanic – the paint gun – used in this instance not as a weapon but as an exploration tool, then you are somewhat prepared for what lies in wait. I say somewhat because The Unfinished Swan packs a different experience into its chapters.
The game is built around a core themes of loss and discovery. The Unfinished Swan itself is a painting that comes to life. Playing through the eyes of a child, called Monroe, you end up chasing this Swan through the imaginary world. Your journey is split into chapters of a book and told like a story with pages embedded into various walls throughout the world. Although the main narrative is told like a bedtime story, the rest of the game is much more adult-orientated.
The game starts with you exploring almost entirely colourless environment with the occasion gold fitting breaking the blinding whiteness. That is until I covered everything in black paint. I absolutely loved doing this. The more paint I sprayed the clearer the world became. This fed my obsession with order and tidiness as I coated everything I could find until I practically turned the world black.
Hidden amongst each of the chapters were a number of balloons. Collecting these balloons unlocked various ‘’toys” like the ability to suspend balls of ink in mid-air before firing them all off on command. Oh, and a hosepipe gun and a sniper rifle. Before long I was completely obsessed in finding every single balloon even the ones that were coloured white in completely white surroundings.
Just as soon as I settled into to a routine of coating walls, ceilings, chandeliers and giant pig statues, the game changed. Suddenly, I was wandering around a castle with huge, solid, visible walls that led onto a giant maze, stretching far into the distance. My black ink was replaced by blue water and then rather than simply uncovering my environment I was manipulating it by controlling an army of vines.
As mentioned by Ian Dallas, writer and creative director at Giant Sparrow, these vines have minds of their own. I merely doused a wall or part of a bridge with water and then stood back and watched as these snake-like vines covered large areas with their luxuriant growth. Through my clumsy attempts at steering them with water I was able to opening up all sorts of climbable surfaces which frequently led to some heart-stopping moments like dangling over a canal full of sharks.
This is not a game for those with a fear of heights or with rubbish spatial awareness, as the game challenges you to navigate massive climbs and jumps at a whim. The middle section of the game is a lot more Mirror’s Edge than Jackson Pollock simulator. And the later levels, well, they are mind-bending.
The Unfinished Swan has no HUD. There are no lives. You cannot fall to your death. In fact you can’t die all. The game doesn’t coax or force you through each of the chapters. Instead it lets you explore at your own pace. I loved this as it let me focus on exploring and pushing the boundaries of the environment and enjoy myself.
It’s Move-compatible I preferred using a standard PS3 controller rather than the PlayStation Move. For a start I could lounge about on my sofa without having my character stop when I moved out of the PlayStation Eye camera range. Using the two analogue sticks I felt more in control of my character than with the Move controller which, in itself, was more hassle to wave around and get my black paint to go where I wanted.
Beside the Move controller, the only criticisms I can level at the game are around its brevity and its refusal to focus on any one gameplay mechanic. If you’re not bothered about collecting every balloon, you can finish the game in a few hours which is pretty short for a £9.99 outlay.
The willingness of the developers to include a wide variety of gameplay experiences, from the standard paint gun to leaping around Mirror’s Edge-like levels, made me want less variation and more paint gun discovery. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the later parts of the game; I did, but I missed the unbridled enjoyment of flinging paint on a wall.
I loved playing The Unfinished Swan. It made me feel like a child again exploring a world full of curiosities which also contained more than a few scary moments. Discovering each of the (sometimes deviously-hidden) balloons gave me more satisfaction than I’d care to admit. Sure the game is short, but so was Journey and I’d rather finish a game wanting more than being being bored to tears with never-ending levels.
In a gaming world full of sequels and identikit shooters, The Unfinished Swan is something different. It’s also an experience that can be shared with young gamers too, assuming they can prise their parent’s hands off the controller.
The Unfinished Swan is released on 16th Oct for PlayStation Plus subscribers and the 24th Oct 2012 for everyone else on the PlayStation 3. It will cost £9.99.