Thursday, December 27, 2012

Finishing the Swan

Today, I braved the Boxing Day shopping rush to grab something other than a deal. It was a PSN card, so that I could download and enjoy a breathtaking PSN title called The Unfinished Swan. I played the demo last night and was immediately drawn (or painted, in keeping with the theme) to it, so I knew I had to play it as soon as I could.

This game was released as a partnership with Santa Monica Studio's incubation program, which also released other fine independent titles such as Flower and Journey. Naturally, I had high hopes for this game.


You play as a young boy named Monroe whose mother has passed away. She loved to paint pictures of animals, but she would never finish them. When she died, he got to take one of her paintings as a memento, and it was a picture of an unfinished swan.

One night, Monroe awakens from his sleep, and the swan has gone missing from the painting. He goes to look for it, and he's pulled into a white world where he must begin by throwing balls of black paint to reveal his surroundings. All the while, he is following the golden footprints of the swan to try and track it down.

As the player, you watch the surroundings evolve from simplistic white canvas that reveals pathways and creatures through the thrown black paint balls, to landscapes that feature simple white with grey shadows, to all-around elaborate, inverted dark-to-light levels. The gameplay evolves from splattering paintballs, to using water balloons to grow vines that you can climb across, to creating blocks in an alternate dimension that will transfer to the regular dimension. Each chapter of the story teaches you how to play the game through sheer experimentation and simple puzzles that will bring you closer to completing the story. The puzzles never get too difficult, and the gameplay is very minimalistic, making it a good choice for experienced gamers and casual gamers alike. You can simply pick it up and play it.

Some of the game's concept art.
Design-wise, it relies on minimalistic colours, shapes and designs, and the character designs possess a nostalgic, Petit Prince-like quality. The world, though mainly empty of characters, is full of breathtaking scenery, reminiscent of ICO. Its gameplay, though it uses a number of different mechanics to bring it to life, can be summed up as a platformer, though, as many games are, this game is so much more than that. It's one of those refreshing games that is simple but complex. It creates a new idea of what gaming can look like, and the direction it might be headed.

Another interesting component of the story is the unexpected dual storyline. At first, you're witnessing Monroe's story alone, but as the game progresses, the story of a self-absorbed king begins to unfold, to the point that his story is as important as Monroe's. It also draws a lot of parallels to Monroe's story, and to his mother's story.

While the game deals with some dark or sad themes, it is considerably lighthearted. Part of this is because of the game's fairy tale-like storytelling. It deals with the subject of death in a way that is overt, yet sensitive and honest. To me, this is saying that death is a normal part of life, and how you accept death says a lot about you. The theme of leaving things unfinished is an interesting theme, as well, but I won't go too far into detail, or else I risk spoiling parts of the game.

The game is a triumphant voyage through the imagination. It's beautiful, uplifting, strange, mysterious, and just a little bit sad. I felt compelled to talk about it in detail after playing it, but I also know I'm not quite finished with it yet. Something about this game begs to be revisited. It's one of those games that, to me, feels almost allegorical, like a good piece of literature. It further cements the video game's place as a form of art and a storytelling device. While video games have been debated over for their artistic merits for a long time, to me there is no question that it's a remarkable art form. What other medium allows you to immerse yourself so wholly into the experience?

The game is available for purchase on the PSN for your Playstation 3 system. You can also download the demo for a free trial. For more info on the game, you can read an interview with Ian Dallas, the game's creative director, here. To add, Journey-lovers should check this game out. You may just find a little surprise hidden within.

No comments:

Post a Comment