by James Pikover on June 10, 2012 @ 10:23 pm
Artistic games are too hard to come by. They’re just a rarity, and the many that attempt to inspire fall short of greatness all too often. After playing The Unfinished Swan at E3, I can say without a doubt that this is one game you won’t want to miss.
The Unfinished Swan, as described by developer Giant Sparrow, is a game about discovery. From the moment the game starts until the final credits, players will be tasked with not only solving puzzles, but uncovering them as well. There are no instructions, no guides, and no tutorials. In fact, I’m even going to say how the game starts, because even that is part of the discovery. And so much of the game can be spoiled with just a few words about the title.
The game itself follows a very simple premise: you play as a young boy searching for a swan, and each level reveals a little more to search for. Players shoot balls of paint, water, or other liquids to reveal the surrounding area, unlock puzzles, see new characters, and anything else that can guide you ever closer to finding the swan. The game starts out simply enough, and over time it builds up from literally nothing to giant castles, massive environments, and plenty of very simple, smart, and elegant puzzles. The kind that make sense based on real-world knowledge, not weird, obscure videogame logic.
One great example is from a puzzle about midway through the game. High walls block entrance to a large castle in the distance, and there’s seemingly no way to get to it. But there are plants growing around the area, and cracks in the ground. And during that level, players shoot water. To get over the wall, just water the plants. The more water they get, the more they grow until eventually they flow through those cracks, onto, and over the wall for you to climb up.
But it doesn’t stop there. That one puzzle leads into two others, one where a different twist has to be taken on making the plants grow, and another on adjusting the directional growth of the plants. Much like Braid exploited every form of time puzzle to its fullest, The Unfinished Swan attempts to do the same with the various puzzles in the game, and organically at that. And most importantly, The Unfinished Swan’s puzzles revolve entirely around context; it isn’t a puzzle where some special piece of information has to be given to players to solve it. It’s all common sense.
This very simplified “just play the game” theme has become a big hit, most recently on the PSN title Journey. That game received critical and commercial success, and is the best-selling PSN title to date. The Unfinished Swan uses a completely different style of art, direction, and gameplay, but at the same time offers players the same minimalist, most basic form of artistic expression in videogames. There are no guns, there is no death. Just like in Journey, it’s an exploratory adventure, one that is best left to gamers to appreciate. Then again, I’m just as likely to seat a child, a parent who’s never played videogames, or pretty much anyone in front of the TV to give it a whirl. And that’s because it doesn’t have a high barrier for entry. The puzzles are smart, but not complicated, and even amateur players will get a good feel for the game very quickly.
To prove that point, when I sat down to play the demo, the developer on-hand only told me two things as background, because the introduction wasn’t shown: I’m a young boy searching for a swan. Enjoy. Off I went, and the two levels I played were magnificent; artistic, stylistic, very comfortable and pleasing to both play and watch, and simultaneously challenging but not overwhelming.
The Unfinished Swan is set for release this year exclusively on the PlayStation Network.
Read more: PS3 Firmware 4.45 Inbound, Promises Trophy Notification Options, Virtuix’s Omni – First Impressions, Hey, Listen – A Story about Xbox One Demos, Giveaway: Deadly Premonition The Director’s Cut PSN Voucher, The Evil Within E3 2013 Preview: A Terrifying Return To Classic Survival Horror