The Big Question: Will PlayStation fans “get” The Unfinished Swan and its exploration-themed gameplay?
Playing Sparrow Games’ The Unfinished Swan may throw you for a loop at the beginning. At the start of the game, there’s just a lot of nothing—an empty white expanse, with no horizon or environment in sight.
All this “nothingness” is seen from the eyes of Monroe, a small boy whose mother used to be a painter. However, she had a habit of never finishing her canvas, and when she passed away, little Monroe could choose only one of her paintings to take to the orphanage—and he chose “The Unfinished Swan”, his mother’s favorite.
One night, Monroe takes up to discover that the swan has left the painting, with its footprints leading to a door he’s never seen before. Following through the door, Monroe is greeted by that vast, white nothingness.
It’s only when you start throwing paint balls around that things begin to take shape, as each each splotch of paint outlines the world you’re in. Throw one paint ball, you hit a wall. Throw a few more, and you find a corner. Keep exploring, dropping paint on the blank environment as you go, and you’ll eventually start discovering trees, a forest, a lake, stepping stones, and a whole path that eventually leads to abandoned buildings.
As team Ian Dallas and level developer Ben Esposito explain, the whole point of Unfinished Swan is exploration without holding your hand. Save one small targeting dot in the center of the screen, there’s nothing on the heads up display: no map, no health bar, nothing. It really puts the emphasis on the shock-white environments, and most of all, it helped me pay attention to small clues in the levels, like lightly colored door emblems and switches.
Eventually, I followed the swan to a different type of level, a large castle that was pale and white, but clearly defined by shadows and outlines. Instead of black paint, I could suddenly throw water around the levels, although at first, it didn’t reveal anything. Eventually, the paths around the castle led me to a briar patch-filled fountain with one small bright green vine sticking out of the center. Throwing water on the wine helped the plant grow, and by using it to lead the vegetation up a nearby wall, I was able to climb to the end of the level.
Along each chapter of the demo, I could always see bits of color to lead the way—the red surface of a balloon, the blue rim of a telescope, or the titular swan itself, which would always shuffle out of the level’s exit as soon as I discovered it.
Although I used a standard PS3 DualShock controller for the demo, Giant Sparrow also noted that The Unfinished Swan is compatible with the PlayStation Move, and players can more easily fling paint, water, and whatever else the different level themes present you with. Overall, the entire experience was entrancing, and I’m curious to see how the exploration/puzzle/platforming mechanics all work together in later levels.
About the only problem that I see with the gameplay is that the art and level design, like Flower and Journey, leave everything in the hands of the player. You have to figure everything out for yourself, and the game trusts you to find your way through it. For some, that’s an enticing challenge. For others, it may be confusing and frustrating. But when The Unfinished Swan releases on PSN this holiday, I highly recommend giving the finished product a look, even if you don’t “get” it at first.