It seems there has been some positives to the recent shifts within the games industry. As the bubble continues to deflate, the world of downloadable games continues to expand and this has brought with it a new mainstream focus on what is coming to be known as ‘art house games’. These are not tests of skill or endurance, like so many triple A titles out there, and they are not full of action set pieces at every turn. Instead these titles focus on telling a moving, interactive story which despite being brief, can stay with you for some time.
Great examples of this have taken their place among many players’ favourite games of this generation, not bad for games that often don’t run much over two hours. But despite the length, games such as Limbo and Journey undoubtedly achieve what they set out to do. The Unfinished Swan is another great example of such a game.
Players take control of Monroe, a young orphan whose mother left many unfinished paintings behind after her tragic death. As the orphanage will only allow Monroe to keep one, he chooses her favourite, the Unfinished Swan. However he awakes one night to find that the frame is empty and a mysterious door has appeared in his room. After entering the door Monroe finds himself in a strange world that he must navigate in order to find the Unfinished Swan and also the answers that go along with it.
Although the premise is not a million miles away from many we have seen before across a scope of many different mediums (Alice in Wonderland, Pan’s Labyrinth etc.) it is the personal and all round low key level on which this tale is spun that truly sets it apart. Monroe is travelling a world that feels built for one not many and this really helps you connect with him.
The idea of this world being ‘unfinished’ is also one that is never lost sight of throughout and this in turn means the narrative never loses its way. Whether you are travelling through the game’s opening few, mainly black and white based, chapters or the later night time sections, everything feels like it has been placed there with this idea in mind.
In terms of game play, The Unfinished Swan is simple to control and not particularly taxing to complete. However despite this, it should be commended for some truly original mechanics. Being placed in a completely white environment where you must throw black paint to discover the terrain or throwing water to make vines grow for you to climb is handled in a truly original way and all this serves to give the game a real sense of identity.
This unique style is also displayed well through the games use of clever art direction and music, as well as some great voice work. As you travel through The Unfinished Swan’s world you are driven forward by a sense of intrigue and there is no element of the games design that doesn’t make you want to keep playing. Despite a few sections that can drag a little, the narrative is well paced and is all concluded with a satisfying ending that really pulls everything together.
The only major criticism that could be aimed at The Unfinished Swan is its length. One play through should take around two hours and despite some replay value, many would argue £9.99 is a little steep for such a short game. Despite this however, it is a difficult case to make as two hours is the perfect length for the tale itself. It would have been detrimental to the title as a whole to have it go on longer and therefore would have made it a worse game for your money.
As well as this it also has to be said that The Unfinished Swan won’t be to everyone’s taste. Some gamers don’t enjoy being told a moving, personal tale when they sit down at their PS3, but for those that do, this ranks among the elite.
The Unfinished Swan is best seen as an interactive bedtime story. There are no enemies to kill, the threats to Monroe’s safety are few and far between and there’s nothing too taxing to figure out, but that’s not what this title is all about. If you sometimes tire of the triple A titles and enjoy seeing what else the medium of games can offer, or you have enjoyed creations like Journey over the past few years, then Unfinished Swan should be on your list of games to purchase.
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