Release Date: October 23 (North America), October 24 (Europe)
Price: £9.99 / $14.99
Platforms available on: PlayStation Network
Developer: Giant Sparrow
Similar to Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are, The Unfinished Swan transports players into the imaginary dream world of a child. The orphaned Monroe's one keepsake from his deceased mother is his favourite of her paintings, an unfinished swan, which one night vanishes from its canvas. Monroe follows the bird, opening a door for the player to enter his imagination and experience it with child-like wonder.
The game begins with an utterly white screen. You can see nothing, and if not for the sound of footsteps when pushing the control stick you might be fooled into thinking that you were waiting for something. In fact it is the other way around, the game is waiting for you.
As you continue to toss paintballs they continue to reveal more of the world around you - a wall, a bench, a tree - everything uncovered by your brush. But in equal measure, paint too much and the world can easily become hidden again in inky blackness.
The Unfinished Swan is a play on perception. First in the world of a blank canvas waiting to be uncovered, but soon colours start to appear. Shadows begin providing outlines to the world, and as the landscape comes into focus Monroe abandons his black paint for a spray of water.
Just like the paint, the water alters perception, as it causes vines to grow and spread across stark white walls and carve new paths through an imagined city. Perception changes again when night falls, and neither water nor paint can alter the darkness.
The story in The Unfinished Swan follows the same shifts in perception as its gameplay. Monroe's journey through his own imagination is punctuated by storybook pages, perhaps a story his mother once told him.
But of course, a child's mind is an exceedingly capable thing, and it quickly becomes apparent that the storybook pages mean more to Monroe than what they actually say. In fact, the pages could mean more to a parent then they even mean to Monroe.
It is this parallel between story and gameplay that makes The Unfinished Swan tricky to judge. Mechanically, the game falls short in many respects. While each shift in perception opens up brilliant puzzle possibilities, the shifts happen before all of those possibilities can be explored.
Each element, whether it is paint, water, light or other gameplay alterations that should not be spoiled, could easily be built into its own full-length game akin to Portal. Giant Sparrow has brought all of them together in a single game, which does not give each one enough room to breathe on its own.
Even the fact that The Unfinished Swan's gameplay possibilities are not fully explored seems a purposeful choice in a game about so many of life's questions left unfinished.
Those seeking more out of The Unfinished Swan after it is, well, finished, will be able to track down balloons hidden throughout each level. Collecting balloons allows you to unlock extras in the game, like a paint-spraying hose to use or a gallery of concept art.
Most interesting though is the reward for finding all balloons, which is too good to be spoiled, but also shows a hint of what could have happened if Giant Sparrow had favoured puzzles over its thematically rich story.
The Unfinished Swan takes players on an imagination-filled journey looking through the inquisitive eyes of a child. That does not mean it is merely a children's game, though, as its themes of legacy and loss have just as much to say to any player regardless of age.
While some could rightly criticise The Unfinished Swan for what it is lacking, sometimes an empty space can still speak volumes. Just spray a dash of paint, and you may see that it isn't all that empty after all.