Every once in a while, a game leaves me stunned from beginning to end. By stunned, I mean that indescribable feeling of awe and wonder where only a gaping mouth is a reasonable response. "The Unfinished Swan" for PlayStation 3 is this type of game, mouth-gaping and all.
To set the mood for the game, I had to look back to my childhood of spending time inventing my own world in the comfort of my home. "The Unfinished Swan" brings that same amount of possibility to games.
The game presents itself as a storybook and follows the adventure of a boy named Monroe after the death of his mother, who left multiple unfinished paintings. When Monroe is taken to an orphanage, he can only keep one of his mother's paintings, and he chooses one of an unfinished swan. As he is about to fall asleep on his first night in the orphanage, he notices the swan had disappeared from the painting, and a mysterious door has appeared in his room. Naturally, he enters the door and his adventure begins.
The game abruptly starts in the first-person point-of-view in a completely blank environment. With no real instructions on how to play the game, "The Unfinished Swan" lets the player simply explore. I had to click a few buttons on my controller before I discovered the actual mechanics of the game. Essentially, the game is a first-person shooter, but instead of bullets, it's paint.
As Monroe, you travel around a blank canvas and add paint to reveal the environment as you search for the swan that disappeared from your mother's painting. The game brought out my inner OCD as I lobbed paint to every surface imaginable, always looking to make sure I wasn't missing anything in the environment to discover.
The adventure evolves across four extraordinary chapters where Monroe's painting ability goes from just splattering to manipulating the environment with vines to blueprint creator. Monroe goes from simply searching for the only attachment he has to his mother to discovering a kingdom of wonder and possibilities.
To say "The Unfinished Swan" is quirky, as in Zooey Deschanel quirky, would be an understatement. The "adorkable" nature of Zooey has absolutely nothing on the creativity of "The Unfinished Swan." The concept is strange and takes some getting used to, but once I got adjusted I went along for the ride. The more Monroe travels through the environment, the closer he gets to the swan that is always three steps ahead of him.
This game is one of the hardest to fully explain. Being at most only a three-hour affair, the game is almost painfully short, but unlike others, the story it tells is truly unique and special. Monroe reminds me so much of Christopher Robin from "Winnie the Pooh" or "Alice in Wonderland;" he is a boy traveling through a land with only his imagination to deal with. That Alice-esque adventure translates through the game in such an effective way.
The simplicity of the game, where the only real action you have is to lob paint and jump, makes the discovery of the environment and solving of puzzles all that more interesting. I was never encumbered with the idea that some enemy forces were about to flank me. I was only looking for a way to progress forward through unique surroundings.
It's hard not to recommend "The Unfinished Swan" because it offers so much to the argument of whether video games are art. In the case of this game, even the hardest skeptic would be swayed to view the game as art. It envelops the player in a story unlike any other and gives the player complete control over what they perceive.
"The Unfinished Swan" is available on the PlayStation Network for $15, and despite the short trip with Monroe, it is a journey that every gamer needs to experience. With it's calm pace and sense of wonderment, it brings out the childhood glee that came with racing Hot Wheels with my brother or exploring my back yard. Trust me, the journey presented in "The Unfinished Swan" is a dog-eared page in my personal history book of games, and it's a page that I certainly will return to.