The ‘walking simulator’ genre, as it is often called by its detractors has seen a surge in quality titles over the last couple of years. Games like Gone Home and Firewatch have brought these first-person adventures to the mainstream and have even made the leap onto consoles, something which would have been considered highly unlikely just a few short years ago. What Remains of Edith Finch is the latest of these, coming at us from Californian developers Giant Sparrow who you may remember from their 2012 title The Unfinished Swan. It would seem they’re fans of animals with beaks.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a game about family and, ultimately, about how people cope with the death of a loved one. It centers around the Finch family home, a bizarre and slightly foreboding structure which has seen a lot of misfortune over the years. As 17-year-old Edith Finch, the last surviving member of the clan, you return to the house in which you grew up to seek answers to the many questions remaining from your childhood.
Edith is an excellent narrator. On the cusp of womanhood, her comments and observations sit in that perfect space between cynical adult and childlike wonder. Of course, this is entirely thanks to the game’s excellent writing, which constantly treads the spectrum between hilariously funny and brutally bleak without ever feeling muddled or jarring. Credit has to go to the staff at Giant Sparrow for dreaming up a truly compelling story, or perhaps more accurately, series of stories. Because that’s what this game is, one story after another showing the unfortunate lives of the members of the Finch family, stretching from great grandfather Odin Finch who died in the ‘30s, right up to Edith’s brother Lewis, who passed away in 2010. Each family member’s story is told by visiting their bedroom, most of which have been locked and sealed for many years. The idea of the Finch family curse is ever-present and the game keeps you guessing as to whether or not there is indeed some supernatural element to all of this. But to say any more would be to spoil the experience.
The shining moments of What Remains of Edith Finch come in the clever and creative ways in which each person’s story is told. For example, ‘50s child star Barbara Finch has her story narrated via a comic book which you find lying on her dresser. Each panel comes alive and some of them even zoom in to give you a cel-shaded, first-person section of gameplay before zooming back out and continuing with the plot. Each family member has their own unique section which plays in a completely different way to all the others. As the story progressed, I found myself getting ever more eager to see just how the next one was going to be told. Again, to give more examples would be to spoil what makes Edith’s jaunt around her family home so compelling. But I will say that each story has an overtone of bittersweet sadness that stuck with me long after I experienced them.
In terms of design, Giant Sparrow have done an excellent job on the Finch family home. It feels genuine, as though you know these people lived here, and the attention to detail is quite astounding. I regularly found myself stopping to look around and check out the books, photos and other possessions that each family member kept in their rooms. Their quirks, mannerisms, phobias and ultimately their personalities were made real by the environments that they had chosen to call their sanctuaries. Each room was like a time capsule, perfectly preserving the era in which they had died and I found myself easily transported from decade to decade by just looking around at the trappings of each era, expertly recreated from room to room. The game’s musical score is just as transformative. Like the rooms, it changes frequently, going from melancholic orchestral pieces to over-the-top marching bands and at one point to a piece from the Nutcracker ballet.
If I had to provide one complaint about What Remains of Edith Finch, it would be the control scheme. I played the PC version and at times, the need to move the mouse around in order to turn handles or close books felt awkward and unresponsive. This somewhat pointless busy work adds nothing to the plot, but fortunately it doesn’t detract from it either. Furthermore, at roughly two and a half hours, it’s a very short game, even by the genre’s standards. This makes it difficult to recommend paying the full $19.99/£14.99 for it on the Steam store, but I do feel that anyone with a love for great storytelling should experience it.