Through the PlayStation Network, Sony Computer Entertainment of America has been providing a really solid push for independent game developers. They’re trying to build a portfolio of excellent games that stem from the minds of up-and-comers while still balancing the load with fare from their first party studios. It’s a neat idea and has resulted in a broad PlayStation Network library with creative titles like Shawn McGrath’s Dyad and the upcoming Papo & Yo.
This week, Sony announced another addition to its extensive library, one that definitely caught out eye – The Unfinished Swan. It may not sound like much, but sometimes independent titles are like that. When we were recently invited to get an exclusive look at the game at a PlayStation press event, we jumped at the chance, and we’re glad we did.
The Unfinished Swan is a project that’s been in development since 2008 when a programmer named Ian Dallas started working on it with his team at Giant Sparrow, a dedicated crew eager to make this game one of the standouts in the PSN library. Their hard work and dedication definitely shows, but let's set the backdrop.
The game tells the story of a young boy going through the loss of his mother. He’s finding it hard to cope and the only thing he has to remember her by are a series of unfinished paintings she left behind when she died. Upon being transferred to an orphanage, he’s told that he can only take one painting with him – he chooses an unfinished swan.
One night after awakening from his sleep, he sees something interesting about the painting – the swan has gone missing. In his efforts to track it down, he finds himself transported to a mysterious new world, one in which everything is pitch white. And we do mean everything. The ceilings, the floors, the walls, the statues – white.
How does the boy resolve this and try to find his way around the world? Stocked with an arsenal of unlimited black paintballs and all of the memories of his mother, he hurls paint throughout the world and when they splatter, they leave an impression on all the objects. With each splatter you can make out walls, hallways and other objects to help you get around the world.
In essence, you’re recreating the world using this paint, learning more about the king that used to run it (and why he left it behind) and finding a few secrets along the way, including foot prints that belong to the swan (part of the mystery that unlocks its purpose) and collectible balloons that can help earn you Trophies throughout the game.
According to Dallas and his team, this all takes place within the first fifteen minutes of the game. At the end of the demo we actually located the swan, and this is supposedly where things change up. The team wouldn’t tell us how, but we could easily surmise that additional colors could be added along with secondary objectives to solve the mystery. The team is waiting to reveal more information – as well as its special “Toys” folder – next month at E3.
There’s still plenty to talk about with The Unfinished Swan. The gameplay is innovative while providing familiarity for those who have played first person games. What’s more, you have the option to play with either a regular PS3 controller or the PlayStation Move, flinging paintballs throughout the world by using your arm. Discovering story segments is part of the fun as you “splat” objects that have their own tale to tell.
As for how the game looks, Dallas and Giant Sparrow have done a great job creating a game engine that, at first, isn’t there but then turns out to be present after all (weird, right?). The paint splatters are impressive as they strike objects in the world, like you’d do if you were throwing around real paint. What’s more, the paint stays put so you can actually gaze down upon the world from distant areas and see the impressions you’ve left.
The game also has some beautiful audio as well with a delicate female narrator breaking down the story as you discover it and plenty of paint noises as you hit objects throughout each level. It may sound simple, but we loved the effect of paint as it splattered from across the level, and we're eager to hear how it sounds in a surround sound environment.
Dallas and Giant Sparrow have worked a LONG time on The Unfinished Swan and we’re happy to see that it’s actually pretty close to being, for the lack of a better word, finished. We’ll get another look at it around E3 and provide more information leading to its fall 2012 release.