Review: The Unfinished Swan (PlayStation 3)
What a unique and beautiful little game this is. The Unfinished Swan was one of the big surprises at this year’s Eurogamer expo for me – along with the equally unique and very brutal Tokyo Jungle.
Seeing the two of these games on display at Sony’s stand impressed me – that the company was prepared to nurture and release weird and wonderful titles like this, on their Playstation Network service.
The story goes like this – very much a warped fairy tale... An orphaned boy called Monroe was allowed to take one of his mother’s paintings with him to his orphanage. He chose his mother’s unfinished painting of a swan. One day he finds the swan has disappeared from the painting and a new door has appeared in his room. So he goes through to chase it…
After this the screen just goes white. At first you wonder if the game has crashed. But if you move the sticks, or press buttons you find that you can fling black paint around. These paint splats show the only visible parts of the scenery in that first level – you have to cover the scenery to see what is out there and how to get around.
But if you cover the scenery with too much black paint, then the screen goes completely black. Take a good look at the screenshots to see what I mean – but the visuals are at once simple, crisp and striking. It works to phenomenal effect.
Only the first chapter of levels is like this – all white with the black paint mechanic. The second chapter actually has scenery. It’s mostly white as well as simple and crisp, but it is a far more detailed place. The story opens up and tells about an unhappy, mad king and his unwilling subjects. The story steers you through his city to his castle – along roof tops, through mazes and more.
A few new mechanics are introduced here – instead of flinging paint around, you spray water. This can be used to show the outlines of doors, ledges and more that are hidden in shadow, but the effect does not last for long – the water runs away. The other use for water is to grow plants. Ivies and other climbing plants dot the landscape and you must water them to make them grow, to climb up vertical walls, bridge gaps and more.
The game continues to twist and turn - the third chapter is entirely dark and full of Minecraft-esque predators. This time you have to manipulate sources of light to keep them away. This leads to the final, fourth chapter where you meet the king – voiced by Terry Gilliam – and…
I won’t spoil it. This game isn’t particularly long – it can be completed in about four hours – but to do so is to slightly miss the point. The fun is taking your time, exploring the unique landscape and art style of the game.
There are collectibles too. Dotted through the game are balloons - collect these to unlock “toys” ranging from water abilities to mighty fire hoses (the equivalent of a machine gun in this game) and other secret items.
There is even a trophy for getting through the first section of the game with only three paint splats or less. Now that is a challenge to the spatial awareness of any player – maybe it would suit a Portal speed-run champion? So the replay value is there – and there are tough challenges within if you look for them.
As usual – the price of the game is £9.99 as it is a PlayStation Network title - it can be downloaded from the just-updated PlayStation Store. At that price, it is absolutely worth the money.
This is a charming, poignant game with a stunning and fresh art style. I really do have to hand it to Sony, for having the creative guts to release such unusual titles on the PSN service. Check this weird and wonderful little game out.
The Unfinished Swan is available now to download on PlayStation Network.