Review

The Unfinished Swan Review

  • First Released
    released
  • Reviewed
  • PS4

Full of grace.

The Unfinished Swan starts with a kind, grandmotherly voice telling the story of Monroe, a newly orphaned young man, whose mother has just passed away, leaving him orphaned, leaving him nothing but her last, unfinished painting of a swan. Soon after, the disembodied bird flaps off into the blank white nothingness of the painting, and Monroe follows. The storybook narration ends, the screen fades to white, and you're left with one of the most exhilarating moments in all of gaming.

You're left with nothing.

The screen fades to completely empty white space, with a tiny circle reticule in the center. You hit one of the triggers or the touchpad, and Monroe throws an ink pellet, making his first haphazard black splotch on the world, and highlighting the way forward.

Spoiler: The entire game takes place in Minas Tirith.

What follows is a first person game unlike anything else: An abstract, Jackson Pollock work of art of the player's making, where objects only take shape after you've splashed black paint all over the canvas, giving shape to each object, making the objects and paths stand out by contrast with the paint alone. The world of The Unfinished Swan, in this first chapter, is a world of blank castles, paths, park benches, shallow ponds, blank statues, and rusty, creaking gates, all of which exist, and yet don't exist, until Monroe makes his mark. It's an elegant, soothing aesthetic, giving the player all sorts of leeway to play and make things messy, while still creating something pleasing to the eye. After traversing the landscape awhile, you reach higher ground and are able to look back over your creation. This sight might be one of the most transcendent, fascinating moments in any game, seeing black and white spatters form shapes, animals, architecture, and natural beauty. That unexpected beauty, unfortunately, only makes the fact that the game starts filling in the blank space with color and shadow in the next three chapters all the more disappointing.

This was the issue with The Unfinished Swan in 2012, and it's not an issue that the pretty 60 frames-per-second, 1080p upgrade could ever fix. Yet, knowing what the PS4 is capable of, it's still a bit of a crestfall. That's not to say that what comes after the first chapter is bad, per se. On the contrary, taken as a separate, simple tale of a boy exploring the vast sterile wonderland of his parents' imaginations, it's still a playful exercise in curiosity and exploration. It's one of the most thoughtful and endearing uses of the first person perspective in quite some time, bolstered by a quirky, gentle electronic ambient score, and a soft, melancholy subtext of divorce and the death of loved ones.

Welcome to the Tragic Kingdom

The storybook narration ends, the screen fades to white, and you're left with one of the most exhilarating moments in all of gaming.

Because the game is so very short--about two or three hours long--no one stage lasts long enough to wear out its conceptual welcome. The game ushers you in pursuit of the titular swan, through vast, Draconian labyrinths, wide, open, Mediterranean plazas, hot air balloon platforms, twisting vines that grow and stretch in whatever direction you toss water balloons, and spooky adventures in shadowed forests, lit by the light of strange luminescent fruit. Embedded in that stage is the one section in which the game comes close to the first chapter's brilliance: a section in which Monroe jumps into a painting, and finds himself in a Cubist rendition of the current area, where he can use his ink/water pellets to create geometric shapes and platforms. It's there and gone as fast as it came, but it's still a joyous change of pace at a point in the game where it's most needed. And in between, the story is still told, through new pages of the story revealed by splashing ink on golden letters, telling fun, simple tales of the king who once ruled the empty lands, and his troubles. And yet, even then, where the game goes is not nearly as powerful a statement on artistry and imagination as where it starts. What was once snowblind exploration turns into simple problems and puzzles of physics.

We call this piece “Crazy Stairs”.

While the game that follows is a satisfyingly twee Golden Book of a game, the first chapter lets the player's imagination do the heavy lifting in a way games never do. The ink only provides a rudimentary outline for your world, and any sense of the overarching land comes entirely from within. It's euphoric, that power. It stretches muscles that games don't allow unless you're playing a text adventure. Once the game starts filling in the blanks for you, giving the buildings shadows and color and concrete shapes, those muscles are laid to rest for the rest of the game. No matter how much the game's inherent playfulness and imagination is being flirted with, no matter how pleasant the narration is, especially when Terry Gilliam--yes, that Terry Gilliam--shows up for a late game cameo, the fact is that what was once abstract, existing predominantly in the player's mind, is now being made solid by someone else.

That fact strips it of a groundbreaking ambition that the gaming world needs so much more of. The Unfinished Swan presented in Chapter One could've sustained a few hours by itself. Instead, it takes up only half an hour, followed by another few hours that settle for being simply great and delightful. It's the kind of failure many developers work their fingers to the bone to achieve.

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The Good
Visual upgrades serve the game well
Art design is still like nothing else in games
Wonderful, living interpretation of a child's storybook
No two stages are alike
The Bad
Never lives up to the promise of the first chapter
Climax doesn't answer lingering questions
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for The Unfinished Swan

About the Author

Justin Clark spent three hours on The Unfinished Swan, 20 minutes of which were spent looking at the giant white labyrinth halfway through while humming appropriate David Bowie tunes.
67 comments
Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

I agree much more with this review and loved the game. Hopefully more people check it out now.

Ahiru-San
Ahiru-San

how come the ps3 version got a 6.5 if it's the same game?! or is it like an improved version (besides higher res, etc) with extras and whatnot??

TRMDYL
TRMDYL

Learn that a narrative should NOT necessarily give you all the answers! Most of you reviewers consider this a negative point when in some games and stories, not telling the entire story and leaving the rest for the imagination is one of the most effective ways of getting your message across. 


PLEASE learn to use your brains, people. Don't be such ignorant, predictable fools who want all the answers straight up their asses in order to understand and/or enjoy the game or movie.

ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

@Gelugon_baat @TRMDYL 


Gamers in general don't enjoy good stories, that's why mediocre stories get passed off as revolutionary...


I'm not going to judge this game by its cover(mainly because of what I just said) but an incomplete narrative is a legitimate form of story telling, everything doesn't have to end with Happily Ever After...


EDIT: Also this is a professional opinion and there is such thing as an incompetent PO... There's a big difference between mine/your opinion and someone who is a professional in their respective field(I know that's stretching it a bit for gamer reviewers but these guys are getting payed and they should put in the work).

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@ArabrockermanX 

Also, really? "Professional" opinion?

Maybe you have presumptions about this and that kind of career, but I don't see the job of game reviewers as a "professional" one.

amiga499
amiga499

@Gelugon_baat @ArabrockermanX

Then we guess you just don't see it. If one is getting paid to provide insight then they should be doing so aside of personal preferences, because they now need to address the interests and concerns of a community in relation to this product. So it is still an opinion, but one that has a group in mind, and carries responsibility towards everyone in the market. Reviewers are professionals, what is there not to see. You pay money for these games as you do for other software, for computers, for cars etc. Fortunately some of these things get reviewed by a professional expert in order to help You.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@amiga499 @ArabrockermanX 

See what? Those "bars" of "standards"?

Maybe you have a lot of wishful thinking, but I don't see these salaried reviewers or fee-paid freelancers as nothing more than people who get paid for writing their opinions about games. Anyone else can do their work if their writing skills are up to snuff.

Also, if you think that the reviewer should write a review with the target group - whatever it is - then you may want to realize that the license for the game can be bought by anyone outside that group.

Furthermore, I don't see you elaborating on what that "responsibility". You are not the first to say all that you have said, by the way, and I have yet to see anyone who does not resort to anything more than just lofty and vague statements on what reviewers who take money are supposed to do.

turtlethetaffer
turtlethetaffer

@TRMDYL Can't speak for this particular game, but it all depends on the story. If a game teases satisfying answers to its many questions and doesn't answer them, that's bad writing. But if a game is supposed to have a story where the why of things doesn't really matter and what matters is what happens, then ambiguity is fine. Don't be a guy who instantly generalizes every type of story there is to tell. Again, I can't speak for this game in particular since I haven't played it but my point still stands.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@amiga499 

Well, -you-can keep having high expectations of them then.

I won't be that naïve.

amiga499
amiga499

@Gelugon_baat @amiga499 @ArabrockermanX

There is nothing wishful about my hard earned money. And when I'm about to spend them, I depend on professional experts that are hired to help me make an educated purchase.

This is not your local town newspaper, it's a leading company with a lot of traffic. They test and rate products in a 22 billion per year (in US alone) business. They have a responsibility towards me and towards the companies of this market. So they do their job or they go out of business. And whatever you say, I believe they see themselves this way, and they operate accordingly with their staff.

amiga499
amiga499

@Gelugon_baat @amiga499 

I don't think there is any naivety involved. I need proper information and I will go to whoever provides it.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

Using insults pretty much ruins your otherwise completely right message. That is something yout should have, as you said, used your brain for before writing.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

Using insults pretty much ruins your otherwise completely right message. That is something you should have used your brain for before writing.

waterhornet
waterhornet

@ArabrockermanX gamers don't care about or enjoy good stories?!  Those of us who want solid single player games are absolutely aghast at the lame story telling they've been giving us lately and we are legion.  The video game industry is looking FAR too much in the direction of the super-successful but quickly collapsing casual market (of which I include online co-op FPS titles like Call of Duty and that whole bunch) and has been pumping out mediocre cash grabs for one year too many.  Why did we all freak the f**ck out when Mass Effect 3 left us hanging and didn't deliver on the promise of the narrative?  Why did we all flip when Dragon Age II reused set pieces and basically removed player customization?  We don't enjoy well written stories?  We don't HAVE well written stories anymore and it's part of the reason that the industry is starting to buckle with the endless stream of MMO's and online FPS's.  The developers need to get back to basics and publishers need to allot an appropriate amount of time and resources to get finished products to market, not the half a*sed barely working junk we've been getting recently.  Shame...shame on you for thinking there's not a huge group of gamers who are begging for good writing...      

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@TRMDYL 

You can show your disdain at those who don't appreciate an incomplete narrative, but those other persons can dismiss you as an apologist too.

With that said, you need to learn how to accept different opinions instead of telling others to "use their brains".

warriors30
warriors30

It sure looks incredible... I can't decide if it's more art, or more video games. Probably both.

jecomans
jecomans

I found some of the later area much more memorable than the opening chapter. Nonetheless, I thought the concept was magnificently used throughout, and the story is fantastic. The Unfinished Swan was certainly one of my favourite exclusives on PS3, and one of the better games in general.

StarsiderSajun
StarsiderSajun

Such a wonderful game, but he is right. The rest of it doesn't quite live up to the breathtaking first section. =(

enuo9
enuo9

Remember when Tom reviewed this and gave it a 6?

StarsiderSajun
StarsiderSajun

@enuo9 Remember when number scores mattered? Didn't think so, because they never really did. It was always about the pros and cons, and now conveniently they list them at the bottom, and you seem to have missed them.

Ailurusf
Ailurusf

@enuo9 Remember when different people had different opinions? Apparently not...

mastertien123
mastertien123

Oh cool ! They chose to review a new version of the same game with prettier graphics which was already reviewed 2 years ago instead of new games like , i don't know , Freedom Wars .

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@PS2fweak @mastertien123 

Heck knows how many of you hyped-up people just hanker for this-and-that site to mention games that you like and seethe when they don't. :/

mastertien123
mastertien123

@Gelugon_baat @mastertien123 Don't get me wrong , i like Unfinished Swan , and upon seeing the game got an 8 , I thought that the gameplay improve in someway compared to the Ps3 version which got an 6 ,  But no , it's just a prettier version . I think this should have an "Other take" tag so people wouldn't get confused like i did . 

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@mastertien123 

The "Other Take" tag would have been more appropriate if it was the same product - but it's not. Also, if you are confused, then you haven't read the passages which implied that the review is for the PS4 version and you deserve to be confused for a mistake which you made.

Also, there is still the matter that you mentioned Freedom Wars when there is no need to.

mastertien123
mastertien123

@Gelugon_baat @mastertien123 Well i guess it technically is a different product (with 1080p and 60fps) , but at the core the gameplay haven't change , much like The Last of Us Remaster . As both version of TLOU got an 8 because they were reviewed by the same person , 2 versions of this title, however ,  were reviewed by 2 reviewers separately . One got 6 and one got 8 , felling excited as how the game has change to get an 8 (still thought they were reviewed by the same person ) and then finding out it didn't really change . I got upset .  

And just as you said , I mentioned Freedom Wars simply because i like the game and there's no review of it on my favorite gaming news site and it made me sad .

So combining the 2 things , i decided to throw a tantrum . 

kachal
kachal

I own this on PS3 and 20 minutes of playing it makes me dizzy, gives me a headache. This made me delete it before even finishing it. I'm okay with most of the games, but this title is an exception.

captainwonton
captainwonton

I passed on this game because it got a 6 two years ago, they said the gameplay was shallow and that the puzzles were nothing short of crap, and now it gets an 8 just as if that had never happened? Well I should stop trusting this site or any site, reviews just lost a little bit more of credibility today

DuaMn
DuaMn

@captainwonton Two entirely subjective and intelligent people can give the same game entirely different scores and both still can be right. It's not a difficult concept to understand.

WereCatf
WereCatf

@captainwonton There is no such a thing as objective review, they are always subjective. With subjectiveness comes the fact that two different people will most likely not view things exactly the same or that even the one person will view things exactly the same if several years have passed between the two different points in time. If you can't handle subjectiveness of reviews then it's best to just stop reading reviews altogether.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@captainwonton 

There is no shortage of people like you who equate "credibility" with "viewpoints which follow yours". :/

abhreebhu
abhreebhu

@captainwonton i agree with this user because a REVIEW should b based on collective feelings of all viewers rather than opinion of one person,,to b credited as a REVIEW!!

xantufrog
xantufrog moderator

@abhreebhu @captainwonton very few reviews are done by a team of people. "Review" in this context doesn't mean review of opinions, it means review of the the game's content...

abhreebhu
abhreebhu

@xantufrog Well i never mentioned a team-based review,i just wrote that a reviewer should view himself as an every possible viewer,,we'll have all sorts of people for an against anything,that's where a reviewer makes a difference!!!

abhreebhu
abhreebhu

@xantufrog anyways i just commented cause i read some users implying it's REVIEWER's opinion,,n i got a thought about critics few years back,how good they were,,n now evry1 made it a business!!

brockelley
brockelley

@DuaMn @captainwonton lol it's not hard to understand the concept that two intelligent people most often come to the same conclusion though.. it's strange when they don't actually.


Also, reviews can be objective.. just because I don't like documentaries doesn't mean every documentary I review will get a negative score.. I mean, if I'm a child then sure I could allow my emotions to make my decisions for me but I'm not so I don't. And that's what separates good critiques from bad ones, and entertainment websites like this one, IGN, and Kotaku, from sites with real writers doing real work.

brockelley
brockelley

@WereCatf @captainwonton Or only read reviews from people who don't let their emotions take them for a joy ride in their professional lives and journalists...

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@brockelley 

I, for one, don't believe in the delusion that reviews can be objective.

I have seen a lot of people say that - but they could never give an explanation beyond statements that "this person needs to say this or that".

DuaMn
DuaMn

@brockelley Stating the facts is different from liking/disliking them. What you are describing is not a review, it's a feature/bug list.


Example: 


"The Unfinished Swan uses artistic black & white visuals that improve the atmosphere of the game. There are some bugs, but they don't get in the way."


or


"The Unfinished Swan uses artistic black & white visuals that ruin the atmosphere of the game. There are some bugs that are hard to ignore which makes things even worse."


Which one is wrong? 


You can't review a game objectively while the readers are not objective themselves. One likes the game for one reason and another hates it for the same. In that case either you need to just say "it's a game and here is a bug list" in your review to be completely right and worth nothing, or you go explain how the game works for you, how it makes you feel, how it resonates with you and consequentially give your readers some real insight about the game.

brockelley
brockelley

@DuaMn @brockelley Firstly, please don't take my next statement as an insult. Thank you, you've narrowed down exactly what is wrong with the way people who don't know how to objectively critique something critique something.

Of your two examples both of them are wrong. 

A metaphor as to why: that's like you saying jokes about black people are bad, unfunny. Or Borderlands has bad graphics, because of it's art design. You can not logically say either of those things, because you are injecting your opinion into the heart of your statement.

A way to properly objectively view both of my previous examples: That particular joke about black people wasn't funny because the punch-line was muddled by the build up. Then you quote this happening in another piece of work, and quantify your statement by showing statistics of how that particular joke was received overall by everyone, not just you.

For Borderlands: The art-design, completely divorced from the graphics, are a positive for this game because it goes well with the current climate that desires unique graphical styles, and because it doesn’t take away from any other element of the game.

The part you say about bugs shouldn't be in the same statement as the opinionated part about the visuals, because it's a completely different topic. Bugs are always bad.. how bad can be quantified by how seriously it effects your ability to enjoy the game.

What you are describing isn’t critique, it’s an editorial.. these are two completely different things. A critique is someone viewing a bridge someone else made, and noticing how some parts of the bridge sag because those parts are depending on the other stronger parts to keep it up. An editorial is stating how that makes you feel.

brockelley
brockelley

@Gelugon_baat @brockelley  An explanation:


A metaphor as to why you are wrong: that's like you saying jokes about black people are bad, unfunny. Or Borderlands has bad graphics, because of it's art design. You can not logically say either of those things, because you are injecting your opinion into the heart of your statement.


A way to properly objectively view both of my previous examples: That particular joke about black people wasn't funny because the punch-line was muddled by the build up. Then you quote this happening in another piece of work, and quantify your statement by showing statistics of how that particular joke was received overall by everyone, not just you.


For Borderlands: The art-design, completely divorced from the graphics, are a positive for this game because it goes well with the current climate that desires unique graphical styles, and because it doesn’t take away from any other element of the game.


Here's the truth: Bugs are always bad.. how bad can be quantified by how seriously it effects your ability to enjoy the game.


What you are describing isn’t critique, it’s an editorial.. these are two completely different things. A critique is someone viewing a bridge someone else made, and noticing how some parts of the bridge sag because those parts are depending on the other stronger parts to keep it up. An editorial is stating how that makes you feel, and how pretty you think this bridge is.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@brockelley @DuaMn 

I agree with DuaMn, and I will add that what you have mentioned there is a technical paper.

Also, both of your examples are already tainted with slant.

Firstly, there is the quantifying statement in your example about black people. The "statistics" which you mentioned would have to come from a survey asking about people's opinions about black people jokes. Any response would already have an amount of bias, and any quantification using that data would be tainted with that.

Next, there is your example about Borderlands. While you can argue that the artstyle does not detract from the gameplay, you have already made the statement of it being "a positive for this game because it goes well with the current climate that desires unique graphical styles". That statement has a rather accommodating tone, not to mention weasel words like the vaguely elaborated "current climate". It is not objective as you think; it's just florid.

brockelley
brockelley

@Gelugon_baat @brockelley @DuaMn Also, how do you think sites like this one and IGN figure out how to "review" things? It's whatever will get the highest ad revenue that shapes what they show and how they show it.. and to properly do that they need to have a consensus of how their viewers feel about just about everything, so the data really is already there..

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@brockelley  @DuaMn 

If you are going to resort to that ages-old tin-foil-hattery, then you may want to realize that if they want to maximize revenue, they wouldn't waste space on their site for low-profile games like Unfinished Swan here.

They would just concentrate their content on popular games like Call of Duty.

Also, what consensus? I don't think there is data for that.

brockelley
brockelley

@Gelugon_baat @brockelley @DuaMn "they wouldn't waste space.." See that's your opinion. 


The current climate has shown a tremendous up swing in viewership in the indie market.. indie by art-style, and indie by development studio size. 


A cursory glance at not only Gamespot, but metacritic as well, shows a fairly large increase in ratings for indie titles.. and with that a large increase in coverage for that type of game.


I'd caution you to stay away from the insults, I perused the rest of the comment section for more discussion on this topic, and I see a lot of you assassinating peoples character under the vale of a rationale based off a lofty vocabulary and a shallow rapport ;p 


You didn't get my subtle hint before, so I'll just say that was me joking by using thicker words than I needed to...


Also, saying the words "I don't thinks there's data for that" is kind of telling of your knowledge, or lack there of, of the subject matter.. and of how businesses like gamespot operate.. 

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@brockelley 

Again, the "current climate" is a weasel word on your part.

(See, I can rubbish your statement too.)

Also, you can imply that I lack knowledge if you can point out hard technical facts which can be verified independently. You did not.

brockelley
brockelley

@Gelugon_baat @brockelley Ummm..... when I say current climate it's to clarify what I'm talking about.. when you say tinfoil hat, weasel words, "what are you doing on this site for then" statements I've seen all over this comment section, it's to bash someone else's statement, and with no logical reason to do so besides of course....


It's clear you have no intention to have an honest discussion, and are like most everyone else I've met here and on the internet.. I'm much better off saving my discussions and desire to debate for people who have experience in the field and an actual desire for academic debate.


I obviously don't have stats on hand to use,  we just get emails from co-workers and view comment sections.. but for you to say that means there are no stats would, again, be more telling of both your prerogative and your knowledge of the subject matter.


I hope you have fun, it's been my non-pleasure trying to navigate your lack of interpersonal skills to contrive an actual conversation out of this obvious bundle of ad hominem attacks.. You win, me and everyone else on this website are done trying put up with you. have fun responding to this knowing you'll get the last word, seeing as how that's all you've been looking for in every thing you've commented on thus far anyway.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@brockelley 

Of course I was bashing those other persons. I have no qualms about doing that on whom I see as self-righteous or hiding their bias behind a veneer of sophistication. :/

(Also, really? "Academic debate"? That's farcical.)

Again, I repeat: there are no statistics on consensus, current climate or such other things. You can say that I am wrong if you can prove that, but of course, you can't.

Plus, my last word: good riddance to you.

RedWave247
RedWave247

@brockelley @WereCatf @captainwonton Except they're writing about something that's meant to entertain and evoke emotions. Besides, no one has the exact same background in video games. They grew up playing different games, have different tastes or preferences, and therefore, regardless of how "professional" the review is going to be, their bias is going to come through it.

There's no way to be 100% objective when it comes to something involving entertainment because everyone is entertained by different things or for different reasons.

The Unfinished Swan More Info

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  • First Released
    released
    • PlayStation Vita
    • PS3
    • PS4
    Unfinished Swan is a first-person painting game and the debut title from Giant Sparrow.
    7.7
    Average Rating87 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate The Unfinished Swan
    Developed by:
    Armature Studio, Giant Sparrow
    Published by:
    SCEA, SCEI, SCE Australia, SCEE
    Genre(s):
    Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    All Platforms
    Fantasy Violence