The Unfinished Swan – The PS3 Attitude Review
In March, Journey saw thatgamecompany’s three-game deal with Sony come to an exceptional end; today, Sony makes way for a brand new three-game contract with another talented indie developer, Giant Sparrow. So the obvious question is; does the studio’s first game, The Unfinished Swan, have what it takes to compete with the best of the PlayStation Network?
In a word; yes. In fact, not only does it compete, it actually betters what’s come before in a number of ways. But let’s start at the beginning, which in The Unfinished Swan’s case is with a completely blank white screen; only a cross hair confirms that it is indeed gameplay. You see, the entire game is set inside a painting; or more specifically, an unfinished painting.
The plot is presented in the style of a storybook. You play as a small boy called Monroe, whose mother was a painter before her untimely death. At the orphanage, Monroe was allowed to keep one of her 300 unfinished paintings, so he chose The Unfinished Swan. One night, he discovers a door he hadn’t noticed before, enters, and finds himself in a world of white.
To help him find his way, you must shoot black paintballs with the shoulder buttons, which gives form to the world and allows you to traverse the environment. The idea is so simple and so satisfying that it’s a wonder why it hasn’t been done before; not since 2007’s Portal have we seen such a genuinely innovative and perfectly designed gameplay mechanic.
Giant Sparrow and Sony deserve high praise for having the guts to create a world and then code it so that you can’t even see it in-game. The first of many ‘Wow!’ moments comes about ten minutes into the game, when you make your way up a staircase, turn around, and view your journey so far; a welcome path of black in a sea of pure white.
Whenever The Unfinished Swan starts to get a little predictable, Giant Sparrow throws a new element into the mix, with each of the four chapters having a distinct theme and feel. The core mechanic remains the same throughout, but along the way you’ll also be growing vines to climb up walls and hitting fluorescent flowers to light up a dark forest.
Furthermore, hidden around each level are party balloons, which when found can be used to unlock items from the Toys menu. These include both gameplay enhancements and one or two special extras that we won’t mention here. This is exactly the type of collectible that we like; not only are they enjoyable to find, but they’re actually useful too!
As well as the standard DualShock, The Unfinished Swan can also be played with the PlayStation Move. It controls much like a first-person shooter, with one major difference; the Move button is used to walk forward. The upshot is that you don’t need a second controller for movement, but it does take some getting used to so we felt much more comfortable with a traditional gamepad.
The presentation of The Unfinished Swan is genuinely awe-inspiring; that may sound a little over-the-top, but we literally lost count how many times we gasped in the sheer wonderment of it all. The visuals, while purposefully understated, look utterly phenomenal, and the minimalist music and sound effects do a terrific job of pulling you even further into the game.
But crucially, despite the undeniably artistic presentation, The Unfinished Swan still feels very much like a game, which cannot necessarily be said of many similarly themed PSN titles. The incredibly clever core mechanic, coupled with the many collectibles and secrets to discover, ensures that the experience remains entertaining throughout.
Our first playthrough of The Unfinished Swan took somewhere in the region of two or three hours, which may seem a little short, but in fact fits the nature of the title extremely well. Truthfully, it’s already a fantastic adventure as it is, so shoehorning a handful of extra levels into the game just for the sake of it would have simply felt like filler.
If you want to find every secret and unlock every trophy, then you can easily expect to double that original completion time; particularly if you don’t use a guide, which we thoroughly recommend because it’s by far the most rewarding way to play. It’s also the kind of experience you’ll likely want to experience more than once, and even share with other people.
Quite frankly, this review could have only been two words long: buy it! Although this would have saved us a lot of time, it would also be a complete injustice to what is simply a fantastic game that deserves the attention of every PS3 owner. If you’re wondering where innovation has gone from games, then The Unfinished Swan just might give you the answer.