Developer(s) – Giant Sparrow, SCE Santa Monica Studios & Armature Studios
Publisher(s) – Sony Computer Entertainment
Director – Ian Dallas
Producer – Max Geiger
First released in 2012, around the time when the idea of art in video games was perpetuated with other releases such as Journey, The Unfinished Swan went on to garnish critical acclaim as well as two BAFTA awards, for gaming innovation and best debut game. Unfortunately, I was less lukewarm to this title than many others were, and whilst it does have its unique aspects, I certainly don’t think it was enough to warrant a BAFTA award.
Graphics – 6/10
Many may argue that the visuals of the game are rather unique, and provide something that most gamers won’t have been used to at the time; but from my point of view, that couldn’t be far from the truth. Not only has the general art style been replicated many times since Frank Miller’s Sin City (indeed, it’s the same style I incorporate in many of my own paintings for Frame Over), but it wasn’t even the first time that this style had been used in video game development. There was Madworld before this title, which also continued the influx of cel-shaded visuals in gaming, which started out with Jet Set Radio. Nevertheless, they aren’t terrible graphics, and there are very few glitches to further mar them down.
Gameplay – 3/10
I couldn’t help but feel throughout playing that the developers decided to prioritise aspects such as visuals and story ahead of gameplay, since the core concept may be fairly unique, but in the long term, provide next to no entertainment value. The object of the game is to solve puzzles and bypass obstacles by shooting ink to reveal hidden locations, and to also collect balloons along the way to buy in-game items. It seemed like it could have developed into something bigger as it progressed, but by the third level, I found myself deeply bored by the entire experience.
Controls – 9/10
As it is essentially a first-person shooting game, the control scheme plays out fairly simply; even more so than the average shooter, since there less control mechanics to have to worry about. The only gripe I have with it is that the movement speed is somewhat slower than other FPS games, which can make the game drag on more than it most probably should have done.
Lifespan – 4/10
Completing each level, as well as collecting all the balloons within each level, will take under 10 hours; despite the fact that the game does have that small amount of replayability. However, I think it was just as well that the game lasted that little time, since the game’s total lifespan outlasted my own personal interested in the game itself. It was a sure sign that developers at any kind of level can end up prioritising all the wrong aspects ahead of the one that truly counts.
Storyline – 7/10
The story of the game takes influence of many different children’s books, and merges them into a fairly interesting and fully cohesive concept. It follows a boy called Monroe, who is pursuing an incomplete swan, which has escaped from a painting. The most interesting element of it is in the back-story, which can be discovered as the player progresses through the game. Though it does seem to play out like a children’s story for the most part, there are certain elements, which make the story take on a much darker tone, going against the seemingly calm and tranquil atmosphere of the game and the soundtrack accompanying it all.
Originality – 6/10
The gameplay mechanics of using ink as a projectile weapon to uncover hidden objects and areas are definitely the most unique thing about it. However, I was left thinking that they could have been put to so much better use in order to keep the entire game as interesting as possible. There could have been much more added to each level for players to do. The lack of enemies throughout alone is enough to keep avid gamers from playing this title for any extended amount of time in my opinion.
Overall, The Unfinished Swan, though with fairly unique gameplay mechanics, was not entertaining enough for me to be able to praise it as many other reviewers have done since its release. The influx of indie games to come throughout the next few years following this game would yield more and better titles, but along with Journey, it started out with too much emphasis on visuals and story as opposed to entertaining gameplay.