Fleshed out from a tech demo created four years ago, The Unfinished Swan is itself finished. Much like the Portal franchise, this FPS (Fresh Paint Shooter) attempts to move the first person genre in a completely new direction. Instead of spraying out chunks of lead, the player slings harmless globs of paint (lead free since 1977) in a world often devoid of detail. Straying from the norm of the first person perspective is extremely ambitious. Few have triumphed. Can the guys at Giant Sparrow paint a masterpiece, or will this project simply be too abstract?
The Unfinished Swan is a story about a young orphan named Monroe. Monroe’s mother was a painter but never finished any of her works. After her death, he was only allowed to keep one of her pieces: her favorite, a swan. One night, he awakens to find that the swan has jumped from the canvas and walked through a small, mysterious door. On his path to catch the swan by following its footprints, Monroe makes his way through an intriguing world crafted by an eccentric, perfection-craving king. (You know a man’s a bit odd when he has a pet hippo.)
I see a red door and I want it painted black.
At the start, everything is white. To get your bearings, you splatter black paintballs as conservatively or liberally as you choose. (There’s even a trophy for only splatting three paintballs in the first area.) This mechanic is so simple, yet so fun. The paintballs also make the most beautiful splatter patterns. On more than one occasion, I found myself turning around to admire my beautiful mess. (There are slight execution problems with the paint splatters, as I found they would sometimes seep through cracks and walls or improperly bend around corners, but this can be easily overlooked – which is why I hid it.)
As the story progresses, the visuals evolve. Not long in, shadows begin to appear, as well as a few soft color tones, which flesh out the world and allow for new mechanics to be introduced. Paintballs are replaced by water drops. After hitting a few paddle switches, vines spring to life. These vines can be trained to grow in certain directions by leading them with the water. This allows Monroe to bridge gaps and climb on walls.
In the third chapter, the game takes a darker tone. (both literally and figuratively) Set in the night, once again new mechanics are introduced as you make your way though a bioluminescent landscape. The art direction deviates quite a few times from here on out, but I don’t want to ruin anything, especially the lovely ending as you assume the role of the king in his beautifully stylized home. (Make sure to check yourself out in the mirror for a moment reminiscent of Psychonauts.)
The game can be played with various controllers. I preferred the Dualshock, but the Move controller could also be used by itself or with the navigation controller. (or Dualshock) Using the Move by itself made traversal a bit awkward, but an analog stick easily remedied this.
Overall, The Unfinished Swan, while simplistic, does some really interesting things with both its gameplay and visuals. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever played before. It’s 120 minutes of whimsical delight. Sadly, it ends long before I wanted it to. There are extras to unlock (including some nice concept art and an early prototype of the game) by collecting the 60+ balloons scattered throughout the game, but this can all be accomplished in two playthroughs. Despite its brevity, The Unfinished Swan is certainly worth your time, even if the price seems a bit steep.
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- Clever, unique mechanics shift throughout the experience.
- Simplistic look is aided by beautiful art direction and creativity.
- Two hour length may not justify the price to some. (You cheap bastard!)
- Ladder and vine climbing is a bit odd.
Thanks for reading.