It's amazing for me to think that I don't like indie games as much as I "should." When I was growing up, I tended to restrict myself to listening only to bands who were on a short list of only the most exalted independent record labels. Everything else was "sold out" or "too trendy." Yeah, I was one of those kids in high school.
You might think given that kind of holier than thou upbringing I'd be heralding the current indie boom in video gaming, but quite frankly, I'm not really feeling it. Don't get me wrong. I am certainly cheering on smaller teams making games that are touching a select amount of players with whom their work resonates. After all, month after month on the RFGPlaycast it seemed I would try to break down the "problems" with modern triple-A video game design, and the indie movement is providing so many answers to my pleas for innovation. Having said that though, every time I try an indie game, I rarely get into it enough to bother finishing it, despite the fact that they tend to be shorter than mainstream titles. There have been a few exceptions like Limbo
, but I haven't gotten deep into an indie game in a while.
I recently sat down with The Unfinished Swan
and although I can't say I have changed my tune on indie games, I did enjoy it more than most others.
In The Unfinished Swan
, you play as Monroe, a young orphan of a woman who loved to paint, but never seemed to be able to complete a painting. When Monroe was sent to an orphanage, he was allowed to choose one painting to take with him, and he chose The Unfinished Swan. The game begins when Monroe follows the swan into the otherwise blank canvas, and that is where our adventure begins.
There are four chapters to the game, but you can almost throw out the last chapter from a gameplay perspective because it contains little more than the credits and an exposition dump. The first chapter was where all the magic happened for me. You start in an area where all you can see is white and slowly realize that you can move around using standard first person controls and shoot paint blobs with any of the trigger buttons. This is where the fun begins. Your black paint blobs will outline objects in the environment, reveal your surroundings, and give you an idea of which direction to go. It's a lot like throwing powder on a ghost, and for me it was the best part of the game. The mystery of wondering where I was, what I was supposed to do, and even which direction I was supposed to be facing was quite engrossing.
The first chapter was also where I found myself analyzing the mechanics of the game the most. Does the game bridge the gap between "walking simulator" and first-person shooter? I mean, this is a non-combat game, but I'm still "shooting" paint blobs everywhere. In fact, I found myself rapid-firing the blobs at times (spurred on not only by the tactile and visual stimulation of doing, so but also by the satisfying sound effects), only to regret having soaked the scenery in black. I found the game to be most visually appealing when the back to white contrast was closer to balanced.
So I walked around shooting blobs and following the titular swan on to chapter two, where things get paradoxically more detailed, but at the same time duller and slightly less engaging. This is certainly a case of where the more the game shows you, the less you have to discover on your own. Chapter Two and Three each introduce their own mechanics, and I won't spoil them here, but suffice it to say, they just aren't quite as interesting as the stark paint blobs of the first chapter. The story also begins to unfold after the first chapter, and it leaves a lot open to interpretation, so like the further mechanics of the game, I'd like to leave it to the player to experience for himself.
I give this game an overall good recommendation to anyone who can handle 3D gameplay. Though the sense of wonder spikes early and fades quickly, and the desire to catch up with the swan will fade slightly during some of the weaker parts of the game, this title's short length makes it worth seeing the whole thing through.