The Unfinished Swan
Developer: Giant Sparrow Games, Sony Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release: October 16, 2012
Like a blank canvas, The Unfinished Swan presents a world that promotes creativity to its user. Giant Sparrow Game’s take on first person exploration stretches its elements far beyond the norm of relative walking simulations, then takes familiar features and puts them on their heads. Despite being an adventure that feels to have ended all too soon, my time with The Unfinished Swan made me question the guidelines of what it means to promote exploration and adventure.
The story of The Unfinished Swan left me with more questions than answers as to why Monroe, a young orphan boy, tries to find the final painting of his past mother’s collection. The game then begins to unravel itself in something much deeper. A king whose thirst for power comes back to haunt him. A city left abandoned set seemingly untouched. An evil that lurks within the depths of darkness. At the time of writing this review, I’m still trying to connect that dots to find the connections between these worlds, and will likely be doing so for some time.
The abnormalities of the game’s exploration are what shine brightest. As Monroe, you have the ability to heave balls of black paint that will splat against walls, floors, and other objects lying around. The significance of this ability is that starting off, there is no environment. The boundaries of the world are blanked out, with no way of depicting the dimensions of a room, where the walls meet the floor, or where an obstacle may block your path. Later on the functionality of this feature shifts and creates small changes in the way the game’s played.
Giant Sparrow Game’s ability to shift tones so frequently in such a short span of time without feeling forced is brilliant, and it’s here that credit must be given to cleverly combining strong uses of color, music, and sound effects to act as a catalyst in these shifts. One moment you’ll be maneuvering around a pond, listening to fish jump and splash around in the water. Or you may find yourself having to shimmy down a river whilst avoiding darkness and the threatening wildlife that occupies it. The cutscenes that branch together each successive chapter are a bit brief and can break the immersion during the early parts of the next area, and this is one area that I wish had a bit more added to it in.
Despite its duration feeling like a sprint compared to most. The Unfinished Swan paces itself well to be able to tell a thoughtful story in a short amount of time. It’s a notable example of how much features such as environment are taken for granted, or how the use of score and other various sound effects are needed to make a game such as this stand out.