Friday, October 19, 2012

The Unfinished Swan

While I do enjoy my fair share of complex or lengthy games, I am also the type to appreciate games that have good artistic qualities (see my reviews of Thatgamecompany's library for evidence). As such, I became interested when I first heard about The Unfinished Swan, especially with its main gameplay mechanic of throwing balls of paint. Recently this game saw an early release for subscribers of PlayStation +, so naturally I decided to take full advantage of it. What I can say is, this game is good news for people like me who appreciate the artistic side of gaming.

The story, as described by the opening cutscene, is that a boy named Monroe had a mother who passed away. She was always painting, but never got around to completing any of her projects. Upon her passing, the orphanage allowed Monroe to keep only one of his mother's pieces, and so picked her favorite, the titular unfinished swan. One day, Monroe saw that the swan had mysteriously disappeared from its canvas, and enters through a door that wasn't there previously.

The core mechanic of the gameplay, as mentioned above, is the ability to throw balls of paint at the surrounding environment. The first level of the game, discussed in pre-release material, uses this in a rather interesting way, wherein you throw black paint in order to reveal more of a completely white world, sort of like painting a blank canvas. The visual appeal of this level comes from the contrast between light and dark, especially when you throw just enough paint to imply an existing form. Over the course of the game, you can also find hidden balloons within each level, which can be used to unlock toys that can grant you certain benefits, one of which allows you to more easily find said balloons. When you find all of the hidden balloons, you can unlock a sniper rifle, though it sounds more like something you can get long after it's needed. You can also uncover small bits of the environment that reveal more of the story within the game.

The graphics of the game are visually appealing no matter what the setting, even as the game introduces more detailed environments. The design of the game looks and feels like a children's story book, which is also how the game's chapters are divided up. Each of these environments, along with the respective music, creates its own atmosphere, ranging from light and quirky to dark and scary (and I actually did feel scared at certain points). On the visual side of things, the game succeeds at creating a unique environment.

The game features little voice acting, in that there's only a handful of speaking characters, but even with what little there is, the voice actors do an amazing job. The narrator has a calm voice that would fit perfectly in an audio recording of a children's book, and Monroe sounds appropriately like a child, though it thankfully isn't annoying. Going further would mean spoilers, but what I did not talk about is equally impressive for such a short game.

While the game is solid, I did encounter a very, very, very minor bug in the first level: While exploring a small portion of the first level that I had revealed, there would be a small glitch with the paint I threw. What I mean by this is that when I walked over a paint splatter, that particular splatter would disappear while I was on top of it. Surprisingly, this only happened to the one specific splatter within a level that is otherwise consistent with your progress.

Something else that should be addressed is the game's length. Though I didn't play the game in a single burst, The Unfinished Swan is noticeably short, lasting just over two hours. This may not seem worth $15, but on the other hand, the balloons in each level add an incentive to replay each chapter in order to unlock more extras. While there may not be much meat to this downloadable title, I think it's the experience that truly counts.

So, is The Unfinished Swan worth a purchase? The answer is yes, particularly for those who want something short and are able to appreciate the artistic side of things. If you want something longer and more complex, you'll probably be more tempted to look elsewhere. If the premise of the game doesn't entice you, I'll give you this: The ending is much more satisfactory than that of Quantum Conundrum.

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