have conditioned us to expect and follow a checklist of objectives. But
from its onset, The Unfinished Swan bravely defies this traditional
framework. While it has an overarching goal, it’s a game propelled by
discovery, thrusting you into an abstract world that is simultaneously
full of substance and empty of everything. Your initial encounter with
it may be confusing, as the starting area consists solely of an
enveloping whiteness that stretches as far as the eye can see. Only by
throwing balls of black paint can you discover its scenery and wildlife
and begin to gain a sense of direction. While this is initially an
intimidating--and at times exhausting--concept, the world and mechanics
continually evolve, ultimately resulting in one of the strangest and
most interesting games you’ll ever play.
Unfinished Swan doesn’t begin with a sizzling cinematic introduction or
overwrought narration. Instead, it presents a wonderfully sincere
fairytale of sorts about a boy named Monroe who has lost his mother.
Armed only with his mother’s silver paint brush, Monroe soon steps into a
magical world in pursuit of a half-finished painting of a swan brought
is always the tool with which you’ll interact with the world. It is, in
a sense, your eyes in a place where you are initially blind. Launching
black paint against a pure white space uncovers the environment within.
This mechanic beautifully captures the sense of wonder that comes with
exploring the unknown, and there’s a ton of detail hidden in the
emptiness. How much you see is dependent on how much you want to
see--the trick is figuring out how much paint to use to unearth the
world’s secrets. You may be tempted to toss tons of paint to unveil
pathways and scenery, but coating any area too heavily ends up blotting
it out with darkness. In practice, this factor makes the use of paint
somewhat strategic, as it can both expose and eclipse the entities
residing within each setting.
trying to make sense of an invisible world can be frustrating, and
you’ll likely get turned around a time or two while trying to figure out
where to go. And while The Unfinished Swan is built around a novel
mechanic, simply tossing paintballs at nothingness alone gets boring
there are a few variations in the color and purpose of paint, which
eventually transitions from a tool of sight to a tool of manipulation.
Blue paint acts kind of like water, allowing you to feed vines and
dictate a path along which they’ll grow. Using these vines as a ladder
or to scale a giant chasm is often the only way to proceed or find
secret collectibles. It’s never painfully obvious that this is something
you can do, and to its credit, The Unfinished Swan does a great job of
providing you with the necessary tools while still allowing you to
discover on your own how to use them.
paint mechanics evolve, so too does the setting, keeping The Unfinished
Swan from feeling too familiar or stale. While the world is initially
an invisible one, it begins to materialize as you progress. Levels are
eventually built around solving simple but enjoyable puzzles, and each
chapter is nearly perfect in length, always shifting before overstaying
its welcome. Some levels provide a glimpse at the astonishing scale of
the magical kingdom Monroe stumbled into, while others place you in
bizarre flashback scenarios. Some sequences are even downright creepy. A
level that takes place at night will have you running from murderous
beasts under the shadow of panic-inducing darkness. The only indication
you’ll have of their proximity is the red hue of their demonic eyes and
Monroe’s rapidly-beating heart.
segment is further supplemented by The Unfinished Swan’s wonderful
musical score, which does a fantastic job of providing a sense of
physicality to a world you can’t always see. Sometimes it’s cheery,
mimicking the sense of awe felt from looking down at a black-splattered
kingdom from atop a high tower. Other times, its brevity and urgency
make frightening monsters all the more terrifying. The music always acts
as a lens into Monroe’s state of mind, and in a game that will
sometimes leave you feeling a bit blind, it helps build an understanding
of each location you’ll inevitably uncover.
Unfinished Swan certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. Some
may find issue with its two- to three-hour length, while others may find
its focus on discovery to be boring. But there’s a lot to be found in
that world made of invisible ink, and for those willing to experiment
and approach it with an open mind, the act of uncovering it all is an
exciting experience--even if you do have to get your hands dirty with a
little paint in the process.