The Unfinished Swan: an intriguing PSN title

22:42, Oct 22 2012

Sony might not always hit the mark when it comes to its PlayStation 3 but one thing the company isn't afraid of supporting in video games is innovation and trying something different, especially when it comes to experimental games.

This year it was Jenova Chen's game Journey and now it's Ian Dallas' The Unfinished Swan ($24.90, PlayStation Store), and though I can't quite figure out what the story is about, it's an intriguing downloadable game that is compelling enough to keep your interest.

The Unfinished Swan tells the tale of Monroe, a boy whose artist mother dies leaving behind 300 unfinished paintings. Before Monroe goes to an orphanage he is allowed to take one painting with him: he chooses one of an unfinished swan, which becomes a focal point for the game. One morning Monroe finds that the swan has left the painting; he chases after it, finding himself in the first level of the game, The Garden.

The Garden is unlike the first level of any other game you've played: it's completely white. There is no other colour at all: no landmarks, no definition, no idea which direction to go. And the only way Monroe can find which direction to head in is to lob blobs of black paint at the white space, each one revealing the details of the environment. It's quite brilliant how piece by piece the landscape appears in stark black and white: a park bench, rocks, trees, reeds in a pond, all revealed as paint lands on the surfaces. Fire enough blobs and Monroe reveals a path.

This stark contrast between black and white doesn't continue into the next location, The Unfinished Empire, where the the walls and structures are starkly visible in grey and white. This time, though, the black paint blobs are replaced with water droplets, which can be used to cause creeping vines to grow and spread along walls and structures, letting Monroe climb them to get closer to his goal: the swan that taunts him with its honking and is continually just out of reach. All Monroe sees most of the time are the yellow footprints of the swan.

While the brilliance of the first level was lost in the second location, the magic is back in a level called Night time, where Monroe has to fire paint blobs at swinging lights, illuminating his path so he can avoid the fire-red eyes of the hissing spiders in the darkness. This level uses the contrasts of light and dark to great effect. In another level Monroe has to build geometric shapes to climb to a high tower.

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Alongside Monroe's tale is the story of a selfish king who wanted the world to conform as he wanted, revealed through a series of storybook panels when Monroe fires a blob at golden letters scattered about the game world.

The game ends with the boy meeting the King who is mentioned in the story, who is in a room at the top of a giant statue of himself, and we then play through his strange dream, but I was never quite sure what the relationship between Monroe's quest and the King's tale was.

The Unfinished Swan is a downloadable game that will take you somewhere between two to three hours to complete - so you don't have to set aside 35 hours to complete it - and its puzzles are simplistic enough that you won't be stumped. It's also PlayStation Move compatible, but I actually preferred using the standard controller as navigating the game world just seemed easier using a traditional method.

While the story isn't entirely clear (is it a tale perhaps about Monroe's estranged relationship with his father, who we never hear anything about?) and the different level styles don't quite gel together, The Unfinished Swan is an intriguing game that reminded me a lot of the game Journey (and if you look through one of the in-game telescopes in one level you'll see a visible nod to Journey).

The Unfinished Swan is an intriguing title showing that innovation is still alive in the gaming industry and that Sony isn't afraid to support something different - but is it worth $24.90? That's a hard question (and interesting given that it's $15 in the United States) but after thinking about it, perhaps $20 might have been a better price. 

Buying a game like this, despite it being relatively short (as was Journey before it), is supporting video game developers who are willing to try something a little different from the traditional deliveries we've been used to, and that can only be a good thing, right?

So, how was your gaming weekend? 

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