"…a bedtime tale of imagination and a monochrome world."
Freedom comes in many forms through video games, The Unfinished Swan starts with a literal blank canvas for the player to explore with blissful wondering and painting taking the player through a bedtime tale of imagination and a monochrome world.
You’re introduced to the game’s main mechanic with nothing but an aiming cursor and the ability to throw paint around a blank screen. Playing around with this mechanic will eventually unearth walls and other pieces of the environment. The contrast of empty whites and black paint splats creates a wonderful picture on screen with everything that appears on screen down to how much the player wants to explore and gives the player a magnificent sense of freedom. There is no clear goal with this opening, with the player character (Monroe, a small orphan boy) and his since departed mother revealed in a single hand drawn introduction with a soothing narrator in a similar fashion to a children’s novel.
Besides these core mechanics, there is a heavy amount of platforming to be done with ladders and other climbable objects being highlighted just like an abstract version of Mirror’s Edge. It’s very basic stuff and never gets in the way of discovery and the wonderment at the newly uncovered world. You won’t ever find yourself getting lost with plenty of guidance through the use of simple signposting such as the footprints of the sole hint of an objective you are given in the title sakes swan you are chasing.
The game eventually moves on from this base mechanic with the paint replaced by water, which brings life to vines for which you can climb on and another slight variation on the mechanic which would be telling if to reveal it here. These variations keep the game from getting stale and the feeling of discovery just keeps on hitting you with every splash of paint. The game luckily doesn’t have to keep it up for long with the game lasting little over 2 hours from start to finish.
"It doesn’t feel like one tight knit experience that evolves…"
Unfortunately, this also leads to the game feeling a bit disjointed with these different parts being clearly sectioned off with each chapter throwing you back out to the menus at completion. The art style also changes with each section and gets significantly less effective and lower in quality when they move away from the contrasting black and white imagery. It all ends up feeling like a few tech demos developed separately with a vague set of outlines that were then stitched together after the fact. It doesn’t feel like one tight knit experience that evolves and progresses with subtle changes to both environment and mechanics, instead everything is packed away into chapters hidden behind menus and question marks waiting to be unlocked.
Visually the game is at its best with fantastic vistas and monochrome landscapes that simply jump out of the TV with an impressive amount of detail. When the game moves away from its best trick however, the game starts to look too basic with colour and textures being very flat outside of the contrast focused playgrounds. The soundtrack is another factor that doesn’t evolve smoothly with tracks jumping in and out unsystematically, as long as it sounds classical it’ll do for this kind of game right? It works, but it doesn’t stand out as being something that elevates the experience much.
”[The Unfinished Swan has] wonderful visuals and great exploration at its core.”
The Unfinished Swan has one idea and when it is performing on that idea, it is great, wonderful visuals and great exploration at its core, but when it tries to apply it to other mechanics and styles, it doesn’t fly quite so eloquently.
- Starts off brilliantly.
- Great visuals that run smoothly.
- An open playground with lots to see.
- Not everything has the same magic as the opening.
- Disjointed feeling hovers over the whole experience.
- The soundtrack doesn’t feel like part of the experience.
- A bit too short for the asking price.