'The Unfinished Swan': The seen and the unseen

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Entertainment,Ryan Vogt

"The Unfinished Swan" has one of the great openings in video games. You start seeing only a white screen, and the joysticks do nothing to change this. Maybe you're moving, maybe you're looking around, but if so, you can't tell, because the screen looks just the same. Pure white. No edges where the floor meets the wall or the wall meets the ceiling, no nothing. You try the buttons, but they don't do anything. Then you hit a button on the shoulder of your controller, and "splotch!" You throw a ball of black ink, which splatters like blood at a crime scene on a wall, a floor, a staircase, whatever you were unknowingly looking at.

"The Unfinished Swan" isn't a an unfinished game -- it's just your view of it that's unfinished. The game tells the touching story of an orphan whose only possession is an unfinished painting of a swan made by his mother, who was an artist. One day, the boy is sucked into the painting, and you are sent chasing after the swan, splashing paint to reveal your otherwise invisible surroundings.

The game has some puzzle elements along the way, and a few tricks up its sleeve, but really, it's no more than walking around discovering what you didn't know was right in front of you. It's fitting that "The Unfinished Swan" sounds like something you'd see in a museum, because through this simple mechanic it has as much to say about how we see things as any piece of static art. The very best games are the ones that help you forget your focus on game objectives, and just mess around, marveling. "The Unfinished Swan" is one of these games. The best way to play it is with as few splotches as possible, throwing out paint sparingly and letting your mind fill in the rest of the landscape.

An unfortunate side effect of the game's core mechanic is that it's disorienting. Players may find themselves surprised by how claustrophobic it can be to see nothing at all -- because something might be there. And they may be surprised that this game will give them a headache faster than other first-person games, because you're mind hasn't had any practice traveling through a world like this.

'The Unfinished Swan'
» System: PS3
» Price: $14.99
» Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Still, this is a game that every PlayStation 3 owner should play. It may be played first by the "gamer" in the household, but it won't be long before the controller is passed to a child, a parent, a girlfriend, so they can see its beginning -- and its magic -- for themselves.

rvogt@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Ryan Vogt

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner