Developer: Giant Sparrow
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: October 23
The unfinished Swan, a PSN game by Giant Sparrow is best described as a first person shooter-puzzle game that paints itself as children’s storybook. We play as Munroe, a young boy who lives in an orphanage. Munroe’s mother loved to paint, though never seemed to finish her paintings.
Only allowed to keep one of her many paintings Munroe chose to keep her favorite, an unfinished painting of a swan. But one night he finds that his mothers painting has mysteriously disappeared, so taking his mothers paintbrush with him, he enters a door that “wasn’t there before” (as the narrator says) and we are dropped into this strange new world.
As the game begins you find yourself completely blind except for a screen full of white, with no instructions and only the sound of your own footsteps and a small aiming reticule. However after playing around with the buttons you find that you can “shoot” what appear to be balls of black paint. These paint balls “splatter” on the white space which make the objects in your environment appear before your eyes (such as the ground, plants, statues and walls) soon your wandering around painting everything black just to see what you might find next. There’s a certain novelty about it that’s hard to describe, it brings about a sense of discovery as you piece things together and work out that your outside in a garden or in the entrance of a castle. The controls are fairly standard (trigger buttons to shoot, X to jump, analogue sticks for aim and camera) and should be instantly familiar to most gamers.
The game gives no instructions but instead uses visual cues instead to give you an Idea of what to do.
Aside from black and white the Unfinished Swan uses some color highlight or draw your attention too certain things like the yellow footprints of a Swan which you follow as a guide throughout the game .There are also golden “letters” you find on the walls, they reveal more of the story when you shoot them, and other various small details such as the odd statue, brass pipe and other objects that may be useful. The game gives no instructions but instead uses visual cues instead to give you an Idea of what to do.
Surprisingly the “painting the environment” idea is only one portion of the game. It’s not long before we are introduced to environments that have shading, which sets the standard for most of the game visually. Later our black paint is replaced with water, when you shoot it near vines it causes them to grow around the immediate area , the vines allow you to climb obstacles.
Surprisingly the “painting the environment” idea is only one portion of the game.
While enjoyable in its own way growing vines doesn’t quite have the same novel appeal as painting, and constantly shooting at them might have gotten tedious after a while. later in the game there are sections where you can create 3D blocks to aid with plat-forming, somewhat similar to the Animus puzzle sections in Assassins Creed: Revelations. Overall Unfinished Swan adds enough variety in both game play and visuals to keep things interesting and even has a few surprises along the way, though it would have been nice to have more “painting” sections.
The puzzles themselves involve basic actions such as climbing ladders, interacting with switches, climbing, jumping and directing vines where they need to go. They are not overly challenging (coming from some who admits to being terrible at puzzles) and I never got seriously stuck for more than a few minutes at a time, if at all. While you don’t exactly “die” in the game when you make a mistake like falling in the water you re-spawn instantly within the same area, so there are no major penalties for mistakes. It’s clear the game is more about the experience and story rather than difficult and mind bending puzzles.
It’s clear Unfinished Swan is more about the experience and story rather than difficult and mind bending puzzles.
Throughout the game you can also collect balloons, it turns out these allow you to buy extra features called “toys” (accessed in the main menu). These toys can unlock chapters, concept art, and extra abilities such as the ability to shoot a continuous stream of paint and a cool feature that allows you to “freeze” your balls of paint in time so you can fire off a large amount of shots at once. While definitely helpful these “toys” are mainly for novelty and are not essential for completing the game. Along with a few other hidden unlockables they help add to the replay value for those who like collecting things but are easily ignored if you’re like me and would rather just get on with the game .
Graphics and story
The presentation is definitely one of the games notable features, highly stylized and minimalistic with a limited use of color, not to mention some impressive set pieces (for a game of this size and scale) that really add a sense of wonder to the world. It manages to create some gorgeous visuals and a world that feels alive and real. This ties in with the storybook motif as the art style is reminiscent of the simplistic illustrations you would find in a children book ,and of course the ones seen in the cutscenes and other parts of the game. The soundtrack is also wonderful, an understated mostly orchestral score that fades in and out at certain points adding to the overall mood.
The narrative is pretty straight forward for a game like this. As mentioned before throughout the chapters you find golden letters on the walls, shoot them and it opens up a “page” of the story and the narrator reads it out. We learn the story of a king and how he created this kingdom with his magical paintbrush, throughout the game you gradually learn his back-story and its connection with Munroe’s own story. While it has a certain “storybook” simplicity, without giving too much away it’s still rather engaging and perhaps even a touch emotional at the end, with some subtle humor as well. It’s a fairly major aspect of the game and definitely one of those things that keeps you going to the end in an effort to discover more.
There were some moments that were incredibly frustrating, the later chapters switch completely from white to Black to create atmosphere and tension (at this point in the game there are some genuinely nerve wracking moments) and this is fine for the most part. It works , but at some points I found myself starting over at least 10 times (especially in one particular spot) because In some instances I couldn’t see a thing and could only stumble around blindly until I finally went in the right direction made even more frustrating with the added pressure of a time limit .There’s challenge, and then there’s just plain annoying and this seemed like something that could have been avoided. That said however these moments didn’t drag on longer than they should have and didn’t detract too much from the overall experience.
The unfinished swan is what you could call an “art” a game, the kind of game that sets out to deliver a certain kind of experience, one that’s about fun new ideas and emotionally engaging the player and at this it succeeds. Understandably though it’s not for everyone, and rather short at 2-3 hours. Those who prefer challenge and longevity over pretty pictures and a cute story might find themselves disappointed.
The Unfinished Swan Score: 8.0
Why so good? “The Unfinished Swan” is a wonderful, charming game with some interesting Ideas and definitely worth it for anyone looking for something new and different.
Why so low? Stumbling around in the dark isn’t fun .Short length being light on game play may be an issue for some.