The Unfinished Swan review: a splash of color

By Andrew Yoon, Oct 15, 2012 6:00am PDT

One wonders why Sony Santa Monica has poured so much into The Unfinished Swan. Like thatgamecompany before it, developer Giant Sparrow has received a three-game contract with Sony, as it gets nurtured by the same publishing agreement that led to creative hits like Flower and Journey. But given its simplistic paint-throwing mechanic, one had to wonder: what makes The Unfinished Swan so special?

The answer to that question is what makes this a particularly difficult review to write. The developer has gone to extensive lengths to hide what happens after the end of the first chapter. Why? Because much of the joy of playing the game comes from experimenting with the game's many surprises.

In a bold move, The Unfinished Swan offers nary a prompt on what to do. From the second you start the game, you are simply dropped into the game world, encouraged to explore and experiment. If you haven't read our preview, you may not even know that you have the ability to throw paintballs at the invisible world around you. The game won't prompt you to jump with X or throw paint with R1--these are things you'll have to discover for yourself.

It's utterly refreshing to be thrust into a world where seemingly anything can happen. Splattering your way through the world is an interesting diversion, akin to closing your eyes and feeling your way through an unfamiliar environment. Of course, this mechanic would get tiresome rather quickly, and The Unfinished Swan does a terrific job of changing things up rather frequently.

Without giving too much away, players should take comfort knowing that the world is not just made of blacks and whites. It grows into a refreshingly colorful experience.

Puzzling together what you must accomplish in each chapter is what makes The Unfinished Swan such a wonderful experience. There's a real sense of bewilderment the game inspires as the game evolves from scene to scene. However, there are certain issues that prevent it from feeling as cohesive as other PlayStation Network exclusives. Firstly, there's failure in the game. While that does add a sense of tension to the latter chapters, it feels oddly inconsistent. You can plummet thousands of feet without a problem, but taking a step into water will kill you, for example.

The art style is also a hodgepodge of rather disparate styles. While likely intentional, it's odd to see how the human characters clash with the environment and the animals that inhabit it. The effect comes off as less whimsical than it was probably meant to be. Finally, the story does little to satisfy, with the game's final chapter explaining all the wrong things in great detail. The Unfinished Swan could have benefited from making the narrative a bit more introspective, and a bit more vague.

While it may not be "the next Journey," The Unfinished Swan is a promising first game from a new studio. And although it may have its shortcomings, it's definitely a game worth experiencing--if only to uncover the game's numerous surprises.


This review was based on final downloadable code provided by the publisher. The Unfinished Swan is available exclusively on PlayStation Network. The game will be available to PlayStation Plus members on October 16, and everyone else on October 23.

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