If there’s any part of The Unfinished Swan that should be familiar to everyone, it’s the one part that developer Giant Sparrow has been showing off for years: a section of the first-person adventure that is completely drenched in blinding white, the player armed only with a paint gun that shoots out blobs of black paint to add definition to the world and mark out its dimensions. It’s a tantalisingly original idea for a game, but as the developer has been warning for a while, it’s only small part of what makes up The Unfinished Swan.
In the role of a young boy named Maurice, you follow the titular swan through a mysterious world accessed through a magic door in your bedroom. Each new location is used to explain the back story of a king who once lived there and, as such, these locations go through significant changes as they evolve. At the start you’re just painting the world to find your way around it, but you’ll later find yourself spraying water on the surroundings to make climbable vines grow where you need them to or throwing balls at lightbulbs to expand the amount of light, and therefore safe areas, within a room. By the end, you’re doing something totally unique, armed with a gun that pinpoints geometric points to build 3D platforms out of nothing.
What starts off as a Limbo-like story puzzler expands over time to be reminiscent of Portal in its original complexity. And what’s perhaps most remarkable about this is that it does it all so naturally, introducing new forms of interaction, unencumbered by needless tutorials or cut-scenes. And though the art style definitely expands with each chapter, it holds true to an overall style throughout, clinging on to its personality while making sure that both visual and audio presentation are always in service of the game design in addition to being nice and whimsical.
Though ostensibly a first-person shooter, The Unfinished Swan is almost 100 per cent free of conflict. There’s one short section in which Maurice can be hurt, but his arsenal of paint, water and abstract construction tools cannot hurt anyone else, and this does a lot to make The Unfinished Swan feel refreshing. There’s a heavy puzzle tone, falling between Ico and Portal, and there’s an equal satisfaction to figuring it all out but, moreover, The Unfinished Swan is a journey.
It’s a game you can play to completion in a single day – leading some to dismiss the game as poor value – but that really is to miss the point. Every minute of The Unfinished Swan is beautiful to behold, stunning in its elegant inventiveness and, thanks to the way it constantly changes right up to the end, it holds the attention like few other games are capable. There’s a reason you’ll finish it in a day: because you won’t be able to tear yourself away.