This artistic indie game gives a whole new meaning to “world building”
It is not uncommon for video games to throw players into an unknown world and ask them to explore it for themselves. What is unusual is for a video game to open up a game with a completely white screen and ask the player to fill it using nothing but black paint. Giant Sparrow’s The Unfinished Swan does exactly this, and a whole lot more.
The game is reminiscent of a childhood bedtime story, opening with a woman’s voice telling the player a story of an orphan boy named Monroe whose mother’s death left him with an excess of unfinished paintings. He is only able to keep the unfinished painting of a swan, but awakes one morning to find that the swan is missing from the painting. He, and the player by extension, must enter the blank painting to find the swan and complete the painting.
The game is remarkably short, with a total runtime of around two hours. In terms of storytelling, this length is absolutely perfect. The game does not add any unnecessary subplots and maintains the simplicity of a children’s tale. It is the kind of game that demands to be played more than once in the same way that a story demands to be told more than once.
Throughout the course of the game, the player will traverse screens that range anywhere from entirely white to entirely black, using only their paint to discover what lies inside the painting. The beauty of the game lies in its unwavering simplicity. There is nothing flashy or attention-grabbing about this game, but it is captivating nonetheless.
The game begins slowly, as the player is exploring an entirely blank room with only their paint to show them where the walls and corridors are. The game allows the player just enough time to get the hang of stumbling about before throwing in furniture and obstacles, and eventually the player will find themselves in twisting labyrinths and giant cities.
Similar to the way that Portal made players solve puzzles to advance through the story, The Unfinished Swan uses a far less complex puzzle system that requires players to think before they launch paint all over the place. Before the game is over, players will need to master the use of black paint, white paint and water in order to advance.
Complete with a beautifully peaceful soundtrack and an undeniably storybook quality, this game is relaxing and fascinating. There are plenty of hidden features that can be found in subsequent playthroughs, which makes it well worth looking at.