Few games are as immediately striking as The Unfinished Swan, a downloadable title on sale via the Playstation Network courtesy of the aptly named development studio, Giant Sparrow. Without a doubt, it’s the sparse environments and abundance of white that will make the biggest impact on the casual viewer.
It’s fair to assume that the developers had a particular goal in mind, pulling together an adventure that is original yet at the same time familiar. It may have a graphical style of its very own and some creative ideas, but is this a storybook quest that’s best left on the Playstation store shelf?
Developer: Giant Sparrow
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation Network (Review)
Release: October 23, 2012
You play from the perspective of a child named Monroe. Armed with a paintbrush in hand, he one day steps through a mysterious door and into a world unlike anything he’s seen before – a place devoid of colour, a seemingly forgotten playground just calling out for exploration. What he finds is a pathway filled with white open spaces, passing creatures and more pieces of the storybook puzzle that help to flesh out the backstory of both the absent King and his once prized kingdom. Players looking for logic in the tale are sure to come away frustrated given the random twists and turns that occur, so it’s best to accept the story at face value rather than go searching for a thought-provoking subtext.
The first few minutes of hurling ink balls to stumble your way through the barren white environment brings things to an enjoyable start. It’s immediately clear that The Unfinished Swan hasn’t been tailored to the COD and Halo crowds, despite expecting you to rapidly tap the trigger button to reveal the path forward. Showing restraint with the paint balls is advisable early on, as environmental details are lost when the black splatters are overdone. This heavily advertised section lasts no more than twenty minutes, leaving you to discover the rest of what the world has on offer. You’ll eventually find magical vines that provide access to new areas and like most of the game’s mechanics – some surprising, but none of them irritating – it vanishes at just the right moment in favour of something new.
As linear as the experience may be from beginning to end, there’s reason enough to keep a watchful eye open. Scattered throughout the lands are balloons of varying colour; these serve as the game’s currency and can be used to unlock new toys for Monroe to play around with. There’s a steep cost to the most interesting items, but this provides impetus to scour the chapters which you might have breezed through on a first run. Balloons aren’t always visible until viewed from a different angle, making for a challenge that will require both time and patience. Concept art can be unlocked from the same menu, and while we enjoy the tools and options available, a few more notable extras would have gone a long way to extend the replay value further.
It may be unfair to accuse the game of being a sedate affair given its snappy pacing and late game perils. It is a prerequisite, however, that you can appreciate a downloadable title that strives to be something other than mainstream. You’d be forgiven for thinking that The Unfinished Swan has its sights set on being this holiday’s answer to Journey, and it’s a thought that could well be on the money. Clocking in at just over two hours the game length is certainly comparable, as are its aspirations to be seen as a piece of interactive art. The problem is that The Unfinished Swan often goes out of its way to appear as such, coming across as somewhat ‘try hard’ rather than befitting the category in a natural way; such is the nature of its presentation and traversal restrictions.
An interesting ride full of ambition and nice ideas, The Unfinished Swan does, at times, seem more like a tech demo with a story attached than a true video game. Painting a white environment with black splatters is a fun distraction from the real world, as is looking back at the glorious mess left in your wake. Later chapters mix up the formula and provide a welcome change from the stark whiteness of previous stages, but you’ll still get a sense that the game could have been so much more with a little extra manpower and higher budget. As an experiment that plays with simple mechanics and storytelling techniques, The Unfinished Swan should be considered a successful venture. Sadly, the tale just doesn’t make an impact on a personal level, nor does the realm leave you with a lasting sense of whimsy.
7.0 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.