Posted September 28, 2012 by Zeth in Previews

The Unfinished Swan Preview

Unfinished Swan logo
Unfinished Swan logo

The Unfinished Swan lead me to a realisation.  There are a few certainties that have emerged from my annual visit to EuroGamer’s London Expo.  One is that there will be hidden gems in the Indie Arcade section, the other is that Sony will bring a game out of left-field that just wows me.
They did it last year with Journey.  This year it’s the turn of The Unfinished Swan by Giant Sparrow another success story of Sony’s “incubation” programme run through Sony Santa Monica .A gaming experience that started its life as the tech demo of one man, Ian Dallas, way back in 2008.  It was then turned in to an XNA title for that years Indie Games Festival (IGF) competition where it came second.
Unlike the original demo though the newly formed team at Giant Sparrow have stripped back some of the more obvious horror elements to leave an experience defined by your immersion in the world.  Like any good children’s story there is a sinister undertone that, on reflection, is a seriously scary prospect.  Make no mistake though, this is no kids game at heart but will appeal to all ages.
The games takes the form of part adventure, part explorer, no doubt drawing on Dallas’s experiences of working the Telltale’s Sam & Max titles.  You play a small boy whose mother passes away.  He is allowed to keep one of her drawings to remember her by – he chooses the swan picture she was working on before she died – the Unfinished Swan of the title.  One morning the boy awakes to see the swan has disappeared from the picture frame.  He decides to venture in after it and embarks on a very unique journey.
What strikes you at first is that you’re not sure the game has started.  The all white screen that proceeded the games start could well have been a load screen.  In this case you start the game in an all white world.  The sheer emptiness is overwhelming at first and you feel a little apprehensive to even move.   No gui, no HUD (besides a scant reticule)  and no instructions you start to nudge the controller like a baby playing with a new type of toy.  Slowly you realise how the game works and it’s off to the next discovery.  The Unfinished Swan manages more creativity than most titles on show at the Expo show.
Pressing on any of the shoulder or trigger button shoots a small ink drop out in a beautiful arc from your screen and it splats against anything it comes in to contact with.  So f or instance if it hits nothing it will splosh on the floor or walls forming a big inky splat.  Likewise if it hits something it immediately splashes over it revealing all or part of the object.  You repeat this process to slowly make out your world.  It really is compulsive wanting to know exactly what is around you.
Nothing stops you from just stumbling off blindly through the area with it all in white… you just won’t even know if you’re moving or not.  Likewise go too crazy with the ink and the world around turns black.  For instance standing near a staircase and you repeatedly press the button the whole area becomes blackened.  You lose the definition of the environment and can no longer make out the stairs to climb.  They’re still there but you just can’t tell them from the rest of the black.
The art produced by these ink sploshes can be stunning.  Counterpoint the large amount of white and slashes of black with areas of orangy-gold.  These could be footprints from the  titular swan, or a crown, other mysterious parts of the world (giant Cockerel anyone?).  At one part, probably 3 or 4 minutes in to the game you have climbed a series of stairways and traversed some rickety planks to reach an upper gantry.  It’s at this point you can turn and look back at the beautiful black and white landscape you’ve left behind – a landscape unique to you and the ink blobs you’ve thrown.
The Unfinished Swan Preview
Hunting through the world is a tense but rewarding affair.  To say all I did was walk about splating some ink sound so very dull – but it’s so very engrossing.  Coupling the wonderful art are some great ambient sounds that draw you in further to the world.  Little touches, for example, a or ange balloon slowly floating outside of structure I was climbing, gracefully floating past large cathedral like windows with no glass.  The area was still white but the drifting balloon defined its outline as it moved across the sky.  One of those incredibly impressive moments, made all the more poignant by the simplicity of the game and world.
My concerns are that, certainly after the first play through, you may find the game lacking in a traditional game sense.  I had little impression of how much game would be in the finish product but Giant Sparrow have said the game will be reasonably short.  They have also said the the entire game won’t just be what with black – but they’re refusing at this time to say exactly what further tricks are up their sleeves.
One thing is for certain.  This game will be an essential purchase for anyone who has enjoyed Flower, Journey or Dear Esther.  I walked around the Expo surrounded by ludicrous amounts of bombast, triple a titles with million dollar budgets – I even witnessed some of the closest to naked booth ladies I’ve seen in my life (seriously they had on hot pants and a boob top that would have fitted a 6 year old!) … and The Unfinished Swan was still the most beautiful thing at the show.
The Unfinished Swan will be releasing exclusively on the Playstation 3 network towards the end of 2012 with a firm release date imminent.


Zeth is our EU ninja and Editor in Chief. He's been writing about video games since 2008 when he started on BrutalGamer. He's pretty old and has been a gamer since he played Space Invaders as a young boy in the 80's. His genre tastes lean towards platformers, point-and-click adventure, action-adventure and shooters but he'll turn his hand to anything.