The Unfinished Swan started its life as a graduate school project over four years ago. At the time it was simply a tech demo in which you start with a pure white room. From there the game had you throw blobs of paint which cover the environment, revealing the world around you. Sony took notice when the developers (now going under the name Giant Sparrow) submitted it to the Independent Game Awards in the student category, quickly signing them up for a three-game contract. Much the same as what happened with That Game Company from years before. Now four years on, The Unfinished Swan begins very much the same as it did before. The game starts with a white screen. You move the sticks to walk around the environment but nothing seems to change. You try the different buttons until a single blob of paint shoots out and hits the wall in front of you. Now when you move the sticks you can see that you are moving. Throwing more paint maps out the room around you and reveals an exit corridor. Following the path through the level, more paint reveals a bench and a pond. A set of steps leads me through some castle walls; more paint shows I’m in some sort of garden now. This is just the first two minutes of the game.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. More than anything else The Unfinished Swan is telling the story of a young orphaned boy named Monroe who is following the tracks of an escapee swan from one of his late mother’s unfinished paintings. His adventure takes him through the world of an eccentric King, starting in his pure white gardens. Finding story book pages embedded into the scenery tells the story of how the kingdom came to be and gives some explanation to your surroundings.
Chucking paint around, it turns out, is only a small part of the overall game. New game mechanics are introduced as Monroe enters new areas to explore, leaving the old ones behind. It goes to show that Giant Sparrow understand that too much of a good thing can be bad. As much as I enjoyed throwing paint around to see where I was going, I was kind of glad to enter a world I could see and have some new type of puzzles.
If I have one complaint, it would be that the game never really layers its mechanics. Once you have left an area, you mostly leave that area’s mechanic behind as well. It kind of gives the sense that these are a collection of different tech demos strung together with a story. The game isn’t very challenging either, but this is understandable as it is very much about the experience moreso than anything else. Giant Sparrow wants you to walk through their world and experience the wonder the same way Monroe does.
The Unfinished Swan is an excellent game, but might not be for everyone. It’s a game that is more about the experience and the journey, much like Dear Esther or em… Journey. The puzzles are not much of a challenge but that just means that they won’t block your way through the world and for those looking for a bit more, there are many hidden balloons around that when found unlock new abilities and extra content. The game is quite short too. You can easily get through it in two to three hours on your first playthrough. Personally I loved The Unfinished Swan and if you are a fan of the types of games that I mentioned above then you must play this too.