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The Unfinished Swan PS3 Review

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The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan

Image © Sony
I am a huge fan of games that try to move against the tide of action-oriented titles and use the medium to achieve new ends. Good recent examples would be "Flower," "Journey," "Sound Shapes," and even "I Am Alive" (a post-apocalyptic game that valued environment over action). Smart developers have been using the PlayStation Network to expand the definition of what a game should and can be. The latest entry in this fascinating subgenre is "The Unfinished Swan," a puzzle game designed like a storybook world meant for you to explore. It uses simplified controls to illuminate a digital environment that tells a story through exploration instead of destruction. It focuses on creation instead of non-stop action. A few frustrating elements keep it from joining the best of these games ("Journey" & "Sound Shapes" are must-owns) but one has to admire the effort

Game Details

  • Publisher: Sony
  • Developer: Giant Sparrow
  • ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10 and Older)
  • Genre: Action
  • Pros: Gorgeous Visuals, Strong Storytelling, Imaginative Gameplay
  • Cons: Frustrating Puzzle Mechanics

You're looking at a field of white. You're looking for the typical sign markers that gamers have been accustomed to seeing when they start a game -- Where do I go? What do I shoot? How do I jump? And then you throw paint. Yes, a majority of "The Unfinished Swan" is built around your revealing of the world around you through the hurling of balls of paint. Black color hits the landscape and reveals not just walls but gates, trees, benches, etc. It's like a world that has been covered in a blanket of white and you unveil it like throwing ink on a page. Revealing the world can show platforms you need to jump on, ladders to climb, and, eventually, much more complex things like vines that need to be fed water or balloons that need to be collected.

Gameplay

The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan

Image © Sony

The story of the game revolves around an orphan boy named Monroe who magically watches a swan disappear from an unfinished painting his mother left him. He jumps into the canvas to track it down like Alice down the rabbit hole and finds a magical world that includes passages to be revealed in the environment that detail the story of the art. Example -- "The labyrinth was designed to be beautiful, and it was. It was not designed to be practical, and it wasn't. Whole families got lost for weeks at time, mail took months to arrive, and many worried a labyrinth of this size was bound to attract dragons. Eventually the complaints grew so loud even the King couldn't ignore them."

I love writing like that especially in that it's actually written on the screen -- "gasp, reading in a game!" -- and the way that it encourages imagination, exploration, and creation. I adored the first 20-30 minutes of the game but I do feel like the tools of imagination and creation aren't quite used as effectively as some critics have argued they do in "The Unfinished Swan." To be particularly blunt, a creatively designed maze game is still a maze game. And so as I was splattering paint in a desire to escape a maze more than through any creative or story-driven aspect, the narrative of the game felt more generic than its presentation might lead you to believe. The game sometimes becomes a relatively generic puzzle-solving title -- "How do I get there to complete the level?" I wanted "The Unfinished Swan" to be more about exploration and story than mere completion.

Even if there are promises of more adventurous redefinitions of gameplay than the game actually delivers, we need more companies like Giant Sparrow that are willing to push the envelope in not just new directions but old ones. "The Unfinished Swan" actually returns to some of the basics of gaming that have been lost over the years -- the promise of new worlds with new ways to explore them.

Graphics & Sound

Downloadable games rarely have the same graphics engines as the hit titles you'll find in stores but I dare anyone to argue that some of the most visually striking and memorable titles of the last few years have not been released on the PSN. "Flower" & "Journey" are the standards but "The Unfinished Swan" joins them as a title that does so much more with less. At its best, the game has a mesmerizing visual and auditory rhythm, like your mom reading you a bedtime story that allows you to forget about all of your real-life problems.

Overall

The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan

Image © Sony
It may be a little blunt to say but I admire "The Unfinished Swan" a bit more than I actually enjoyed it. Although that admiration level is high enough to more than warrant a recommendation. Giant Sparrow may not have hit a home run but the creative swing for the fences needs to be encouraged if we want them to come up to bat again.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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