Written by Twisted Ideas
The Unfinished Swan has been a curious game when trailer was released. It showed white background with black balls of paint revealing an entire world hidden in the void. Originally a tech demo in 2008, Giant Sparrow has signed a deal with Sony to help fund the project. Has Giant Sparrow delivered or should they have left this game unfinished?
Monroe’s mother was an artist who never finished her paintings. When she died Monroe was only allowed to keep a single painting, The Unfinished Swan. One night The Unfinished Swan walked out of its painting and entered through a mysterious door. Monroe followed the swan taking only his paintbrush into a strange kingdom ruled by a strange king.
When you start the game all you see is a white screen with a small reticle. You control Monroe in first person so he cannot be used as a reference point. Only once you press one of the shoulder buttons will you throw black paint.
Early in the game you will have to navigate by painting this canvas that is the world. Objects, walls and the floor will be outlined with the paint giving the void shape. If you throw too much paint then you will have the opposite effect. As the game progresses the world fills with shadows, color and new mechanic present themselves involving water plants and lights. They are used to solve puzzles, navigate and supports the story being told.
Through out the game there will be golden letters on the floors and walls that you can paint. They reveal storybook pages telling this world’s history. Throughout the game there will be balloons float. If you set the balloons free you can use them to buy toys that gives you helpful gameplay bonuses and extra concept art.
Graphics and Sound
At first the only colors in the game are black and white and hints of gold and orange. There wasn’t even gray. When you start painting the world, it is incredible when you start to see what you have created. During the game’s narrations they use very simple hand drawn art mostly black and white sometimes with a splash of color in the hair thrown in. When playing the game you are in a 3D environment and the objects aren’t detailed they are complete. You can see the where the paint hits and where it misses as well as the paint splatter.
Using more paint reveals more of the world.
There is a good use of ambient sounds. Even if you can’t see where you are you can hear Monroe walk, when he drops and can even tell what he is walking on based on the sounds. Occasionally there will be a pleasant tune playing but they come and go quickly. Monroe does have a voice but for most of the game the only voice you will hear will be the soft-spoken narrator.
The game is introduced as a white canvas that you paint and it frames itself so that you can overlook your work. At several times I wanted to take screen shots to preserve what I created. The best thing about that mechanic was that you are painting a picture by accident. When you start it might look ugly to you but as you make a trail of paint and look from a distance all that negative space slowly disappears. I half excepted the game to be a gigantic black and white maze but that stopped very soon. You are still creating throughout the game and it’s fantastic once you realize what you have created.
There are times when you will hear loud noises. These moments are rare and if you are exploring then you probably will miss what happened.
It is very hard to define The Unfinished Swan. At the beginning painting seemed to be the primary mechanic but it’s almost forgotten about in favor of what ever comes next. They tie the new mechanics into the story but the initial appeal of the painting is lost. If you collect all of the balloons then you can play the original prototype which has a few different mechanics. There was the ability to use white paint on black backgrounds and completely transparent backgrounds. Neither of those, what I thought would be obvious, are present in the final game.
The Unfinished Swan falls into the games are art category of gaming. It also falls into the category of a game that’s not really a game. Unlike artistic games like Portal, Braid or Limbo that have strong gameplay requiring a degree of skill to complete it is more similar to Flower or Journey that have bare minimum gameplay and requires little knowledge of how to play games. While those games are fantastic examples of what games are capable of with the possible exception of Journey they are not games you play much longer after you finish them. The game is $15 and it can be finished a single afternoon. It is a game that you should experience but for gamers on a budget this will be a difficult sell.