The Unfinished Swan Review
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The Unfinished Swan is a fairy tale told beautifully through the cooperative effort of the game's graphics, sound, and intuitive gameplay. Polished beyond belief, its hard to believe that this Picasso is going for a PSN price.
- Beautiful presentation that actually serves as a gameplay element
- Game mechanics constantly evolve until the game ends
- A moving story, with interesting characters set in a unique world
- The short life-span
- While entertaining, none of the puzzles required much thinking
Unlike one famous and respected film critic, we believe video games can be art. This year's PlayStation Network release, Journey, is a prime example. Giant Sparrow, a twelve-person video game company based in Santa Monica, CA has added a title to the list of masterpieces in our favorite medium. The Unfinished Swan is a beautiful game, and it's clear that plenty of hard work and a lot of heart have gone into this beautiful story book of a game.
Started as a student project in the University of Southern California, Swan was originally meant to be played on head-mounted displays. When demoing the game in Tokyo, Japan in 2009, the game caught Sony's eye. Since then, the Giant Sparrow team has fully assembled, and the game has come along tremendously with aid from Sony. Most games with long development times often become scatter-brained, and deliver disjointed or unfocused experiences. However, this obviously isn't the case with Swan, as it’s evident that all this extra time went into fine-tuning every aspect of the experience to make the fresh concept at its core work perfectly.
The graphics are unlike any we’ve seen in a game before. Swan lacks detailed textures, but this isn't a negative feature. The game focuses on the use of color and extreme contrast as an actual gameplay element, and to fit the canvas and story book theme. The lightly yellow tinted white that serves as the game's base color provides an excellent backdrop for the game's settings and environments. Throughout the four chapters, environments change dramatically, ranging from blank white space, to shadowed mazes, to vibrant green overgrowth, to a forest at night. We're vague on the settings purposefully. Indeed, the discovery of these areas as well as the transitions is some of the best parts of the game.
Revealed to the player in the form of pages in the picture book, the game's story focuses on a young boy named Monroe, who will serve as your protagonist. Monroe's mother is very fond of painting, though she's never finished a single one. Upon her untimely death, Monroe is sent to an orphanage that tells him he can keep only one of her many paintings. He chooses his mother's favorite, the unfinished swan. That very night, he wakes up to find that the swan is missing from the canvas. He grabs his mother's silver paintbrush, and runs into a newly appeared door in the room. From this point, the story is revealed through playing the game, cutscenes at the end of every chapter, and through pages of the fairy tale that can be discovered throughout the game's world. Without revealing too much, you'll meet a selfish king, a house hippo, a very lazy giant, underwater creatures, fearsome spiders, and even more memorable cast members as you make your way through the game. The game's writing fit's a children's book perfectly. The game's rare dialogue is reminiscent of the LittleBigPlanet series, and has the same wit and charm. Monroe's childlike exclamations at his surroundings and situations are believable and endearing. Again, we don't want to spoil anything, but the story does end up being more than your average fairy tale, touching on emotional issues before its end, but never enough to bring down the beautiful, inspiring feel of the game.
After the game's intro, players are introduced to a white screen, with no hint that they're allowed to play yet besides a small circle in the middle of the screen serving as an aiming reticule. No amount of turning the camera or running around the small starting area will change the lighting or reveal any of your surroundings. This is made possible by throwing paintballs. In the first chapter, your paintballs are black. This contrast of the black paint against whatever surface you decide to toss it on will reveal your environment and allow you to proceed. You can use as little, or as much paint you desire, and in coating your surroundings in paint, you expand your understanding of the world around you, as well as create art. No one's trip across the bride in front of the pond will look the same as another's, because of the amount and aim of the player's paintballs. It's a good idea not to drench the area in black ... (continued on next page)
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