The Unfinished Swan PSN review – inventive, unique and absolutely beautiful
Even if it weren’t overtly presented as such, The Unfinished Swan would feel like stepping into a child’s bedtime story. It’s all about exploration, wonderment and journeying into a classic fairytale dream world. Sadly, it’s slightly too limited to fully capture that kind of magic, but in terms of invention and as a visual spectacle it comes close on more than one occasion.
Played in first person, the only way you interact with the world around you (other than jumping) is by tapping the trigger buttons. And all of these do the same thing: fling a coloured sphere out in front of you. What these spheres are and do changes as the game goes on, but they’re always the method by which you progress and solve the game’s various puzzles. The puzzle usually being: how do you continue to progress?
In the first section your spheres are blobs of black paint which, as the game starts you off in an entirely blank white space, you need in order to orientate yourself. Fling a few paint splats out and you’re able to discern the contour of a wall, some steps, one side of a bench. As you see what’s around you, you can tentatively venture forwards, exploring a world as distinctive as anything on PS3.
That world is the creation of the King, and you explore it within the dreams of ten-year-old boy Monroe who’s tracking the titular bird, the subject of an incomplete painting by his late mother. The swan’s golden footprints are a consistent guide as to where to go next, and tracking him takes you through castles, an enormous labyrinth and even up into the skies on a flying boat. As far as delivering on a vision and presenting a unique aesthetic goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.
What holds the game back slightly is a lack of variety, and that the voyage you’re on never feels as compelling as that of, say, Journey or Limbo. This is partly due to the fact that the puzzles aren’t as ingenious as they might be, and partly because latter sections, where the game really finds its feet, are over in a flash. That the whole game clocks in at just a couple of hours is a shame more than a damning criticism, but it certainly feels like Giant Sparrow had ideas to spare that haven’t been fully realised.
The Unfinished Swan deserves high praise for being inventive, unique and absolutely beautiful. But this shouldn’t obscure the fact that these things apply more to the look and the core mechanic than the gameplay and how said mechanic meaningfully develops. The engagement with the narrative and characters isn’t on a par with that of the top titles in a similar vein, and there’s a lingering sense of what might have been. All of that said, £10 for two hours messing about in a beautiful dream world is pretty good value – certainly compared to a VIP night at the Playboy mansion, or a 3D showing of Rise Of The Guardians at your local Odeon.