The Unfinished Swan begins like no other game. As Anthony describes in his preview, after a quick set up of the plot your character finds himself surrounded by a blanket of whiteness. All that can be seen is a small cursor. Turning left or right only finds more emptiness. The brilliance of the unfinished swan hits with the first few taps of the shoulder button. Each one eliciting a blob of paint to coat whatever it hits in a contrasting black. Slowly but surely your surroundings are revealed, first a wall, then steps, a bench, then a barrel (surely it’s not a video game without barrels or crates after all! And there are crates too). Before long you are stood at the edge of a picturesque lake throwing balls into the water to watch as fish leap out to gobble them up. It’s around this point that it hits me what a special game this is.
As you make your way through the world, led here and there by swan footprints you are always accompanied by a sense of wonder as more and more fantastical things are revealed before your eyes. However take care as you throw paint around with gay abandon. Too much paint will simply cover the landscape in black and render you as blind as when you first began. The story is presented via pages of a story book you come across as you make your way though the environment and accompanied by narration that would perfectly fit story time at nursery. This story book feel is wonderful and for those with children it would make an excellent Sunday afternoon of family gaming.
The game slowly begins to add a little more texture as you progress, starting with shadows then more colours and other elements. As the environment changes so to does the premise of the game. Gone is the blank canvas which you have to reveal as you go to be replaced with a more familiar, visible gaming environment. Whilst you are still throwing paint or water to progress things become much more traditional. Plants have to be fed with water to grow in to climbable surfaces. Platforms are built to climb towards previously unreachable areas. Switches are pressed to activate machinery and platforms. It’s a little disappointing that the interesting mechanic of the first stage is lost somewhat as you progress and things become more familiar but it still presents a wonderful journey as you traverse this storybook world.
And what a journey it is. You will come across numerous unexpected things as you go. A huge frog appearing before you only to be gobbled up by some unknown terror of the deep for example or my personal highlight, the reveal of a huge labyrinth which takes both your and your characters breath away. Like That Game Company’s excellent Journey the path is short, with the game clocking in around the two to three hours mark. Also like Journey it’s all about the experience though and whilst not as emotional, The Unfinished Swan is just as beautiful in its own way. Developers Giant Sparrow clearly happy to acknowledge this influence, even including a nod in the form of a Journey related hidden Easter egg.
To say much more would be to spoil the experience. Although not cheap at £10 for a few hours, if you are looking for a break from all the shooting found in modern gaming then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. It won’t be difficult for all but the youngest players, with puzzles being fairly simple and with very forgiving checkpoints dropping you at the last platform you touched should you accidently fall to your doom. Better than Journey then? No, but it definitely sits beside that game in terms of quality of experience and its initial attempt to do something different, even if the developer wasn’t quite brave enough to carry its unique mechanic through the whole experience. Perhaps not an absolute classic then but a very good game that those open to a different gaming experience should certainly seek out.