The Unfinished Swan
The Unfinished Swan
Abstract is big right now. There was a deluge of titles back in the 90s which revelled in their weirdness, but developers the world across were swept up in a wave of realism heralded by the commencement of the phenomenon we now know as three dee.
So it was that games like Rez, Killer 7 and Katamari Damacy were intentional throwbacks in a certain way, rather than simple ways of using current technology to provide an experience. Indeed, they were further than merely throwbacks, and were seen as somewhat anti-games in a lot of ways. This garnered them a significant following from those jaded with the mainstream. This made them somewhat pretentious. This made those who enjoyed them identify more strongly with the fandom. That made them become wanky, or as the fans would say: art.
Scoff all you like - I happily ally myself with the wanky, art-crying, vague-apologists.
So if you’re like me, and appreciate what HD has done for games’ ability to use symbolism to create emotions, if you think PixelJunk Eden was a masterpiece and have more time for The Stanley Parable than Bulletstorm, read on.
The Unfinished Swan, as its name suggests, is a massive pile of wank.
In it, you are presented with a white screen. Cunningly not instructing you as to what to do next, you’re left with a palpable sense of reward when you eventually think to pull R2 and a blob of black paint is fired.
Splat (it goes on some unseen object)! Curious, you think. This is no ordinary white screen. This is a game-world I just can’t see… yet.
Realising that the more black balls of goo you fire all over everything, the more you’re actually able to see it, you gleefully expend your unlimited ammo on every nearby thing until you realise you’re in a three dimensional space which you can actually navigate.
The magnificent glee you feel when figuring out which way you can walk and what an object actually is cannot be understated. As you progress through the paths of an unseen garden, tossing black paint on everything until it becomes a majestic tapestry of black and white bamboo, sand gardens, rock paths and hedge mazes.
The contrast is delightfully mesmerising, and the sheer joy of exploration from a literal nothingness to a vague semblance of a something is unrivalled in current gen games.
So just what on Earth is going on here?
Well, what you’re actually exploring is the decaying remnants of the Unfinished Empire, in which the King has created a weird and wonderful Lewis Carroll meets M. C. Escher kingdom of haunting gardens, ruinous cities and boisterous monuments.
As you explore each level, you reveal another part of the biographical tale of the King, as each represents a time in his life and shows his mood through its tone. The gardens were constructed during his youthful and exuberant phase – the cities during his struggle for control over the citizenry.
Each of these levels does a marvellous job of tantalising, piquing your curiosity as you roam. You’ll slowly begin to craft your own understanding of what the mood must’ve been like during each phase of the King’s reign.
Navigatory challenges aside, you’ll have a range of physics-based puzzles to tackle, albethey mired in the gloss and glamour of the sheerness of the game’s abstract world. As you hurl blobs of paint at assorted flip-switches to turn on different archaic aspects of a city’s former infrastructure, you’ll bring fountains back to life and watch creeping vines restore their past glory, made only the more beautiful by their juxtaposition to the stark and barren locations.
Climbing up these vines one at a time as you ascend towards the lofty goal, you’ll find yourself checking every nook and cranny, indulging in every potentially interactive object and playing at your own pace, eager to reveal the ‘what if’ of whether each object has a secret hidden on its other side.
Although they won’t. They never do. But you’ll do it anyway.
That’s the beauty of this simple concept being brought to life by Sony. It embraces exploration is its most pure sense – that of asking you to create something from nothing, all the while being tasked with a control mechanism which feels instantly familiar. Nothing reveals the absurdity of difference more than contrast with familiarity, and as every FPS player knows, danger could lurk around any corner. The Unfinished Swan taps into this realisation perfectly, playing on the notion that since you’ve figured out the move and shoot controls, you could be challenged to employ them against an enemy at any given moment.
Although you won’t. You never will. But you’ll feel it anyway.
Set aside a few moments’ thought for this game when it does see the light of day. It’ll shock and enthral you, and has a bizarre way of knowing what you’re feeling and thinking at any given moment.
There aren’t many games which can say that.
Oh, and it’s totally art. So there.
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Tue 25 Sep 12, 6:21pmBanf
Posted: Tue 25 Sep 12, 6:21pm
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