Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

The Unfinished Swan for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita

I completed The Unfinished Swan just after I finished Entwined, and even though their mechanics are completely different they’re both clearly games which could fit into the ‘art game’ category and seek to be profound in meaning. In every department that Entwined failed, The Unfinished Swan succeeds. It’s fun, charming and genuinely moving.

Monroe is a young boy who’s mother has just died. She was a painter and had left an unfinished painting of a swan. One night, Monroe is drawn into the painting into a white void. Only able to perceive the world around him by lobbing paint, Monroe pursues the swan and discovers more about the wonderful and sad world inside the painting.

The Unfinished Swan is a fairy tale, but one which touches on some very adult themes. The world inside the painting was ruled by a capricious and careless King, not actively malicious, but narcissistic and unthinking of the consequences for others as he pursues his goals. He’s not an evil figure, but a very human one and one that casts a long shadow over the story. The Unfinished Swan celebrates creativity, but also explores it’s darker side and the way that creatives can hurt those around them. I know it’s unfair to be constantly comparing this to Entwined, but my irritation with it is still fresh in my mind; Entwined had no message more than ‘togetherness is nice’, but The Unfinished Swan shows how you can convey profound meaning without alienating your audience. The Unfinished Swan is frequently funny and whimsical and seeks to engage you all across the emotional spectrum.

If I was being unkind, I would describe The Unfinished Swan as a slightly more involved walking simulator, because that is essentially what we’re looking at here. The core mechanic is the throwing paint to reveal the world, which is initially sparse but gets more detailed as you move on. You will use these balls to solve simple puzzles, with the different chapters of the game featuring some interesting mechanics. For example, the second chapter is set in a beautiful and empty city and you guide vines which you climb on by throwing paint to create paths. In the third chapter, you can create blocks by hitting three points with paint on an x, y and z axis. None of this is difficult; you’re there to soak in the scenery and atmosphere, but the added element of player agency makes it more engaging than a lot of walking simulators can be. It goes to show that even a tiny amount of player agency goes a long way. This isn’t a particularly long game, but it really doesn’t need to be; its welcome is not outstayed but it also doesn’t feel unsatisfying.

The Unfinished Swan looks absolutely lovely with a variety of different art styles featuring throughout. It is minimalist in most ways, with the general colour palette being blacks and whites, but there are moments of startling colour which feel like sensory overload after the starkness of the rest of the game. The music is atmospheric and effective and the voice acting excellent, with a lovely cameo turn from Terry Gilliam capping everything off. The Unfinished Swan is quite clearly a labour of love.

I was extremely impressed with The Unfinished Swan. This is the kind of game which makes other games in the genre look bad, offering a genuinely stirring experience as well as an interesting gameplay hook.

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