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The Unfinished Swan (PlayStation 3) artwork

The Unfinished Swan (PlayStation 3) review

"I dunno, it seems pretty finished to me."

It’s difficult to review The Unfinished Swan. Some may call it “short,” but “short” is relative. It’s short in the same way a children’s bedtime storybook is short.

It’s very much like a bedtime story, in fact. The whole experience feels like a children’s book in the form of a video game. The game opens by telling the story of Monroe, a little boy whose mother has sadly passed away. She loved to paint, but she had a bad habit of never finishing any of her paintings. Monroe’s orphanage only allows him to keep one of those paintings, so he picks her favourite: an unfinished painting of a swan. One night, Monroe wakes up to find that the swan has fled its canvas, so Monroe grabs his mother’s silver paintbrush and heads through a previously-unnoticed door, following the swan’s golden footsteps.

This is where you’ll gain control of Monroe. You’ll immediately notice... nothing. That’s what you’re surrounded with. Nothing. No matter which direction you turn (not that you can be sure that you’re turning in any direction at all), you’ll only see white. You’ll probably take this moment to fiddle with the controls a bit. Once you get around to hitting any shoulder button, Monroe will fling a ball of black paint, and suddenly everything will begin to make sense.

It’s not that there’s nothing there, it’s that everything is white. There are no shadows. No textures. Just white. So, you’ll fling some more paint around, watching it splatter on various objects, walls, and the floor, causing the world to take shape around you. This brings a wonderful feeling of discovery, as white emptiness becomes trees, benches, rocks, and eventually a staircase, a castle filled with statues, and more.

It may sound like it would get repetitive, the need to paint before you can properly see new environments. If that were the extent of things, you might tire of it quickly. The game doesn't wait long to introduce other elements, however, such as shadows and lighting. While some things will still bend together a bit, you’ll be able to see your surroundings pretty easily.

There’s more to the adventure than painting, anyway. The game is broken into four chapters, and each chapter is focused on one or two different mechanics. I won’t tell you what they are, but they’re all pretty novel, and none of them overstay their welcome. There’s a lot of variety for such a short game.

And it certainly is short, compared to most games. The Unfinished Swan can be finished in about 90 minutes if you rush. (Don’t rush, though.) For what it is, The Unfinished Swan is the perfect length. There are hidden balloons scattered around the levels, which can be collected to buy “toys,” unlockable upgrades or bonuses. None of them make the game any easier, but some of them are just fun to play with, or make things a bit more convenient.

This really isn’t the type of game you play for a challenge. There are some light puzzles, but nothing terribly difficult. This is a game you experience. Monroe’s story is told through storybook-style cutscenes. As you explore, you’ll find pages of a different story book, detailing the life of the nameless King and his magic paintbrush, which he uses to create entire kingdoms. The simple yet stunning visuals, the creative gameplay mechanics, and the soothing music come together to lead you to a poignant ending that I’m struggling not to ruin. The Unfinished Swan is an experience, and a better one if you go in blind.

It’s difficult to review this game. If I describe or explain too many things, that would be doing a disservice to you, the reader and potential player. This review may feel more like an endorsement than a proper critique, and for that I apologize. The Unfinished Swan is one of those rare gems that manages to evoke an emotional response through very simple means: simple graphics, simple characters, and a simple story. Nothing that I've specifically mentioned in this review extends beyond the first chapter, and it’s a great first chapter that is followed by three more great chapters and a bittersweet ending. The Unfinished Swan is not to be missed. Do yourself a favour. Clear a couple of hours from your schedule, download it, and play through it in one sitting. Perhaps you'll even come to understand my vagueness by the time you're done.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (October 29, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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zippdementia posted October 30, 2012:

What's the price on the game?
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Roto13 posted October 30, 2012:

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zippdementia posted October 30, 2012:

Well, at that price, you may have just sold me.

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