The Unfinished Swan

So I know I said I would review Shadowrun – Dragonfall, but it seemed that was a complete lie. Having played many hours of Shadowrun and not seeing an end in sight, I didn’t feel it right to review a story-based RPG before I finished the actual story.

So instead, I’ve decided to review The Unfinished Swan, a game I managed to finish in about 3 hours. That should already be a good indicator that this is not a challenging game. You play young, orphan boy Monroe, who chases an unfinished swan (one of his mother’s many paintings) into an imaginary kingdom which is entirely white. Armed with nothing with the ability to throw paint, you have to navigate this surreal world in order to find the swan.

The Unfinished Swan is an exploration game with a set destination in each chapter. As you explore, you find pages of a story about the king and his kingdom, explaining the sights you see and the world you’re exploring.

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As I mentioned, it’s not a challenging game. At the start you are faced with nothing but white. You have to throw black paint at walls, objects and a city in order to find your way around. It itself, this was quite fun and almost therapeutic. At several points you can look back and see the trail of paint, creating a larger idea of the world you’re exploring. In chapter 2, you move into a part of the city that has shadows and suddenly there’s no need for black paint as you have a basic idea of where you are. Instead you have water which is used to hit switches and grow vines, allowing you to progress.

It was at this point that the the whole painting/splatoon mechanic became redundant, never to be used again. The game completely changed its base mechanic. I still had to find stories and navigate my way around, chasing the golden footprints of the swan, but now it was more of a puzzle exploration game. And strangely enough, the game changes it’s core mechanic two more times, at least. I enjoyed it all in a fairly casual way, but finished the game a little confused.

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This is one of those games which seems more like somebody’s final year university project. A bunch of game concepts brought together by someone’s or some people’s force of will and a common theme, to display their capabilities as designers. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to belittle this work at all. Despite changing game mechanics several times, the game still somehow retains the same graphical design throughout. And considering the world starts off pure white with literally no features, maintaining graphical consistency is an amazing feat. The colour palette, while starting off monchromatic and only adding a splash of variety to that is surprisingly strong, and suits the children’s story theme well.

The game feels like you’re wandering through a Roald Dahl story, though with a more surreal graphical direction (ironically, Terry Gilliam voices the king, the creator of the strange kingdom – oh… I see what you guys did there). So what’s my reservation about it? Like I said, the game feels like a bunch of different concepts joined together by a common theme and graphical style. Core game mechanics are introduced and discarded quickly. I also felt like there was an extended metaphor in there somewhere with an orphan boy, a world involving paintings by his dead mother and a king who is possibly a father figure. But whatever the metaphor might have been, it was never fully realised, always on the tip of the tongue, but never spoken outloud.

The game felt a little disjointed and removed from itself with the chapters not quite as linked as I feel they should be. And I’m glad I played it for free because I would have felt a bit gibbed if I paid the $20 for it. That being said, if you can get it cheaper or for free like I did, it’s worth the play. And as much as I’m not a fan of the “university project” game being sold as full product, those games are always striving to be something different and wonderful. And it’s always good to keep developers like Giant Sparrow on the radar as they have the creative direction to eventually produce a great game.

The Unfinished Swan is currently available from the Playstation Store for $19.45.

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The next review in 3 weeks will be on Armello

next week

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