I used to love the old eight bit computers, with the bedroom coders, free of any strictures of company rules and management using their full creative talent to enrich the industry. Lost to the gaming world for a while these inventive times of experimentation and the making of imaginative games are coming back most notably in the mobile phone gaming world as well as in the form of games like the refreshing The Unfinished Swan an indie game for the PS3, PS4 and PS Vita, that manages to delight and surprise in equal measure and is so far removed from the usual stuff that it puts your faith back in not only gaming but imagination.
It’s very rare that a game moves me enough to write about it but I was watching my friend play this at the National Gaming Museum (more of which in a later post) on a big TV with brilliant surround sound and it was the best thing I have seen in games in years, relaxing, fascinating and gentle. Returning back to Tom’s house we immediately got a copy and proceeded to play it through like the dedicated people that we are.
The story is like an interactive bed time story, a boy’s mother dies and leaves lots of unfinished paintings because she hated to finish anything, the boy, Monroe is allowed to keep one, he chooses The Unfinished Swan. One night he wakes up and the bird has disappeared out of the painting but there is an open door which he hasn’t noticed before…
The screen fades to white and being impatient the first thing we did was press buttons – because that always helps the game load quicker – but you are already in the game. As seen in the above trailer, paint bombs are thrown to reveal the hidden world around you. It’s that surprising inventiveness that grabs you and ignites that child like feeling of being able to explore the magical unknown which is as addictive as it ever was.
Pushing the game along is the sheer imagination behind it, despite being a very linear game, the solitude in this new artistic creation gives focus and far from making it feel empty makes it feel more mysterious and beautiful. The sheer pleasure of experiencing something unknown, a game with heart, is played with a joy and curiosity that is immensely pleasurable.
To begin with the game seems small in scope and lacks in colour but then opens out and feels much more epic, colourful and more original, especially with those little crescendos of wonderful music, as a big reveal sneaks up on you and the normally sedate and perfectly pitched score rises and gives you that anticipation for what could appear around the next corner. The unexpected never fails to make an appearance and this keeps the game fresh and gives it that just five more minutes factor.
All good stories have a quest and chasing the titular swan just seems to make sense and is compulsive, the joy of working out a puzzle and seeing something new is the perfect reward. The world is in part created by the players interactions and so the creative processes are explored as you go further through the game and finding the story inverting, which makes a replay worthwhile just to appreciate what you are doing at any given time so much more. Whether exploring a vast city or a fortress island there is always scope for the player to insert their own stories.
The game is sadly quite short, we completed it in a couple of hours and the replay value is not huge, there are collectibles and to realise how what you are doing is affecting future things is fun. When the only real criticism of a game is the lack of longevity and perhaps the lack of challenge then it bodes well. To balance that though the game has a book in it, it’s perfect happy escapism and has a cameo by Terry Gilliam so what is not to like?
By the end of the game I was ecstatic to have experienced it and was certainly left wanting more and highlighted the problem with an industry geared towards churning out games at the expense of thought and imagination, there’s no pressure, just go wander and be happy in this new world, with simple controls move, jump and chuck a paint/water bomb. I don’t usually have time for games but if you have the relevant consoles it’s worth a punt and if you not then you can watch plenty of walkthroughs on YouTube.
To put my fairness hat on – which is pointy and has a quizzical face patched on, in case you were interested – there is one mild misstep in the game and that is the central theme, on a basic level its fine but there is so much more that could have been done to layer it. The symbolism is there in its minimalist way but something feels slightly lacking overall. Perhaps that is my endless need to analyse which makes that a slight issue for me, at the end of the day its a nice arty game and if you don’t think too much and enjoy the journey while it lasts you will find an enticing adventure.