Every now and then, a title comes out that blurs the line between interactive art and videogame. Probably one of the most blatant examples of this is a bewitching new addition to the Playstation Store entitled The Unfinished Swan. While the game is literally a work of art (one that you even help create), the beauty of the game lies within its minimalistic nature - from the visuals right through to the controls.
Even the storyline is short and succinct, weaving between classic fairy tales and ancient folklore such as the Iliad – it’s essentially a tale of youthful exploration and childhood wonderment. It introduces you to Monroe, a brave little lad who seeks meaning after his mother dies. While his mother was alive, she had amassed over three hundred paintings, but strangely failed to complete a single one; including her last piece entitled The Unfinished Swan. Naturally this last work of art is of sentimental importance to poor young Monroe, so when a part of it disappears from the painting, he sets out to find it - discovering more about himself, and his parents, along the way.
The entire game centers around exploration; immediately on starting the game you are presented simply with a white screen. Looking around, you see nothing. However, you soon discover that the right trigger lobs out a blob of paint. By aiming around and tapping R2, you start to paint in your surrounding environment and turn your blank canvas into rooms, corridors, forests, and - eventually - entire kingdoms. The game works equally well with either the standard controller, or the Move controllers (if you can find them).
That essentially describes the entire gameplay, but The Unfinished Swan adds a lot along the way. For starters, it’s not just about chucking black paint around like a hyperactive Jackson Pollock wannabe. Often the game will change what your ‘ammo’ is and for example, in one chapter of the game, you’ll be armed with plain old water. You’ll also be solving puzzles, tracking down clues about a mysterious King and Queen, and encountering evil creatures that simply want you dead. Despite the fairy-tale book aesthetics and youthful charm, I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone under the age of ten or eleven. Unless you want them to have some rather unpleasant night terrors.
The Unfinished Swan doesn’t feature a huge amount of dialogue or fancy cinematics, and it has a tiny cast of characters. But what few there are are brought to life thanks to some powerful voice acting led primarily by Terry Gilliam, who plays the mysterious King in the game. The music is equally brilliant, delivering a perfect soundtrack to the intriguing and potentially sinister environments around you.
The game clocks in at around four hours and, although it’s a fairly short experience, it features an ending that will leave you thinking long afterward. While The Unfinished Swan does feel slightly rushed towards its closing chapter, there are plenty of memorable gameplay moments that will stick in your mind sometime after you finish playing. It’s sadly not a game that bodes well in the replay department though, so our advice is to allocate a good four hours to fully explore the game from start to finish. This definitely isn’t a game that can be rushed.
The Unfinished Swan is a beautiful and emotionally touching game. It has also come a long way since I played it at E3 earlier this year – although this is probably due to the uninspired and obviously bored demonstrator who showed it to me back in June.
While the talented (and surprisingly small) team of developers at Giant Sparrow deserve immense credit for their efforts here, I think Sony also deserve a pat on the back for publishing unique art-house titles like this. In a similar vein to Flower, Linger in Shadows, and Journey, it’s these unconventional gaming experiences that broaden the mind and encourage imaginative discovery. While I certainly have a destructive side to me, it’s refreshing to be creative in a game rather than just blowing everything up. Here’s to more releases like this.
The Unfinished Swan is only available on the PlayStation Network and currently retails for $24.90 (and clocks in at around 1.5gb.)