In memoriam, Donald Sutherland

The Unfinished Swan

Moby ID: 58363
PlayStation 3 Specs
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$14.99 new on Steam

Description official descriptions

The Unfinished Swan is a game based around exploration. The story is told as a fairy tale. The player controls the character Monroe whose ends up in an orphanage after his mother died. She used to paint and he brought along one of her favourite paintings: The Unfinished Swan, displaying a swan that is missing its neck. One night he awakens to discover the swan has jumped out of the canvas and has disappeared through a small door. He follows it and is transported in a magical world that is entirely white. During the journey he chases after the swan and finds out he has entered the realm of a king. The story is furthered in-game through cut-scenes between chapters and in-game drawings like pages out of a children's storybook.

The game is played from a first-person perspective and Monroe is able to move around and jump. His only ability is to splatter the world with paint. The white garden where the game starts is entirely white, meaning there are no shadows or shades to give shape to the surroundings. That way launching paint is the only means to reveal surfaces. Objects or level elements do not disappear when they are not splattered, but it is as if Monroe is walking into a giant void. It can best be compared to the process of stone rubbing where the sense of distance and perspective of the entire world is only established through the paint. The game is split up into four large chapters with multiple levels for each. The initial technique of revelation is not maintained for the entire game as it makes navigation slow. Later levels are coloured entirely of largely in shades of grey and other types of paint are introduced, but they are not used simultaneously. Often there are brightly coloured objects that show where to go next or act as landmarks.

As Monroe explores castles and cities he often needs to solve environment-based puzzles, using ladders, jumping over gaps, and using paint to activate triggers that open gates of move platforms. In the second chapter with a giant city labyrinth vines are introduced. By launching paint Monroe can guide them to cover walls and objects, providing a means to climb and cross water that is deadly. The third chapter is set in set in a dark forest entirely in black. There, Monroe has to launch paint and hurl it a neon light sources to light up the environment. In the fourth chapter he enters the king's dreams and there yet another entirely different visual style is used.

During the journey balloons are discovered. Collecting them is used to unlock options such as a balloon radar, the ability to stop time and launch several set of paints that, when time is activated again, all launch at once, unlock all levels and a gallery of concept art, and a fire hose that launches paint continuously. Two additional ones are only available when all balloons have been collected or the game has been completed respectively. The balloon radar displays a yellow balloon in the radar screen when one is nearby. The image becomes larger as the player approaches. On the level select screen the amount of collected/available balloons in each scene is shown. Optionally the game can be controlled through the Move peripheral.

Spellings

  • Лебединый эскиз - Russian spelling

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Credits (PlayStation 3 version)

595 People (471 developers, 124 thanks) · View all

Creative Director
Producer
Technical Director
Senior Systems Programmer
Graphics Programmer
Programmer
Additional Programming
Contract Programmer
Level Designer
Art Director
Technical Artist
Artists
Additional Art
Additional Writing
Production Assistant
Swan Animation
Swan Rig
Ooze Animation
Tech Art Consultant
Special Thanks
[ full credits ]

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 79% (based on 45 ratings)

Players

Average score: 4.1 out of 5 (based on 14 ratings with 1 reviews)

An experience in actual exploration, tedium free – rare and worth playing.

The Good
Well that's 2 for 2 this week in games rated 'E' that have surprised me wholly with the ingrained quality and heart they've brought. The Unfinished Swan is a grade more avante guard than Rain, but both are worth checking out. As part of my ongoing series of reviews of games in the Playstation Plus club 'Free Game of the month' series, here's a game that deserves it's status as an award winning innovator!

The Atmosphere

I almost feel remiss in making a 'Little Nemo' reference in my Rain review – I should have saved it for this game, because this is even more apt a parallel. The atmosphere of this game kind of reminds me of Quantum Conundrum, but honestly this one is a lot more inspired. From starting on a blank canvas and having to uncover detail through careful use of pure black on spotless white, to using water to both illuminate your way and solve puzzles, and grow plants – The Unfinished Swan invokes a pure sense of exploration in the player that is (almost) frustration free. Up until the latest stages there is no pressure – no rush, and that organic feeling of play really makes for a fun time. The austere environments of the early levels grow darker as you approach the physche at the heart of the painted kingdom, and your heart still leaps whenever you catch sight of your intended quarry. I was constantly left in awe of the few but well placed other animals in the game, from a predatory fish that seems to follow you, to red eyes in the dark that skuttle away individually but are bolstered by numbers...

The Game-Play

This is a shining example of simple but effective game-play, the same element that made a game like Portal a landmark (this game even has a one-room-omage to Portal). By taking a relatively simple concept (splashing paint) and making it into something more. In fact, every new chapter CHANGES the way that you interact with the environment – from sploshing ink, to tossing water, to making 3D shapes on blueprint paper. One of the most interesting points in this game is that you never fight anything in it. It's all pure exploration. You don't spend your time sneaking around and running away either, there's a short chase sequence and a few sequences where you need to keep ahead of rising water, but these aren't really conflicts. Why is this a big deal? Well, most games are conflict based, that's the way forward and keeping the player engaged. A game like... Yakuza 4 would be boring (and a lot shorter) without the street fights every 5 minutes or so. Any RPG, without random encounters, would drag out and feel like busy work. The Unfinished Swan never FEELS like busywork despite not having goombas or other minion type enemies to toy with. The item collection is also very well done – here it's balloons, which can be used to purchase additional features, toys, weapons, and tools. In fact, it only takes 5 balloons (which can be found within 10 minutes or so of gameplay) to unlock every level in the game, which is the complete inverse thinking to most games that are stingy with treats like that. The balloons range in difficulty to find from dead obvious to well hidden, but the purchase of a 'balloon radar' (only 3 balloons) will make this side-quest a more enjoyable and fruitful occupation. There aren't a lot of 'extras' with The Unfinished Swan; by the time you've played through the story and the credits (yes, you play through the credits) you will probably have everything you want out of the game. Which is a point in its favour as you can walk away without feeling you've left anything behind in my opinion.

Story

You'd think that if I had a complaint to make in a kid's game it'd be in the story department. You'd be wrong, actually I think the story is beautifully done. It's told in literal storybook pages and narrated by your grade 2 teacher. And although archetypal in places, the story is always humorous and contains a lot of adult humour if you know where to look for it. The foreshadowing for the plot twist at the end is pretty obvious, but in no way unwelcome. In fact, I'd guess a kid would be pretty proud of his or herself for figuring it out the first time through. As an adult, the story is even better because I can see the primary character (the King) as an adult and how sad the story really is – a story about a man given a godlike power, but like all mortals given such power he winds up abusing it, alone, and miserable.

The Bad
Short-comings

No game is without flaw, and this is no exception. Whereas I was ready to give 'rain' an award for being the perfect length, I can't do that with 'The Unfinished Swan'. This game should have done a final level requiring every trick the player had learned, and finished off the story or the big fish. You don't foreshadow something TWICE and then have no payoff, even if it does vaguely resemble a big-lipped alligator.

The Bottom Line
Bottom Line: This is one of those games that will go without a sequel and be fondly remembered by anyone who played it. If you have kids – get this game and let them play it. It doesn't have any annoying repetitive sounds to bother you, there's no singing or yelling, and it'll expand their minds. And it'll do the same for yours too, because this is a rare example of a game that lets you think and explore organically instead of confining you to a right or wrong decision. That' s a rare animal.

PlayStation 3 · by Kyle Levesque (904) · 2015

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Sciere.

Additional contributors: Ivan Kireev.

Game added October 27, 2012. Last modified March 9, 2023.