Everybody’s family is weird in their own unique way, packed with ancestors of all shapes and sizes with stories to tell: A war hero grandfather, an aunt who was in the films or a distant cousin that knew the Royals. Whoever you are, your family history has an impact on your life in some way or another and What Remains of Edith Finch manages to capture this simplicity of life and turn it into a hard-hitting and emotional narrative driven experience, garnished with obscurity and the macabre.
Following 2011’s The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch continues developer Giant Sparrow’s trend of focusing on first-person exploration. While it would be easy to lump it into the category of the often maligned ‘walking simulator’ genre, What Remains of Edith Finch is so much more. While Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture revolves around a mystery, Gone Home around family issues and Firewatch around environment, Giant Sparrow’s latest title trumps all three at their own game.
You play the role of Edith Finch, the last surviving member of the Finch family, who returns to the isolated home of her ancestors to find out more about recent tragedies and what many had understood to be a cursed family history. Everything revolves around the Finch household, a crooked and disjointed labyrinth, full of locked doors and secret passages. It’s the visual representation of a family tree with the house itself branching off in numerous directions, each undulation leading to the story of one member of the family.
You are guided from room-to-room through the abandoned home, cluttered with a whole range of family trinkets, books and furniture. It’s a linear path that you are masterfully led through by brilliant direction and level design. There are no obscure puzzles to solve or hidden objects to find, you unknowingly follow the words spoken by Edith as they appear on screen, flowing up stairs, around corners and through keyholes, holding your hand without beating you over the head.
Each individual room belonged to a member of the family and was sealed after their death but it isn’t until you’re inside that you find out what led to their demise. The first time I entered a room, that of Molly Finch, it took my breath away. Like pushing past the velvet rope at a museum, it was surreal to be in a part of history unchanged for many years. Empty fish tanks and gerbil cages, untouched bed linen, and open books, the stillness was incredibly eerie. It is like this for every room you visit and for each of the deceased, each one its own ecosystem of a former life.
“A history of stubbornness and madness” is how the family are described. Somehow that small phrase manages to perfectly capture the ethos of the game’s core mechanic. The last moments of each of the Finch’s life is played through a series of small vignettes activated when you enter rooms within the house. Gameplay changes from the aforementioned ‘walking simulator’ into a variety of styles at these points, as you witness the death of each family member; each one a bittersweet story of real emotion.
Somehow, Giant Sparrow manage to capture things as tragic as a child’s death, or teenager’s disappearance and cover it in charm and whimsy. Although the story doesn’t touch on it, the curse could be perceived as something psychological and each member’s story highlights this in how they experience the world. A young man stuck in a monotonous day job at a cannery visualises his march through a kingdom, a small girl becomes an animal when sent to bed hungry or a child obsessed with flying all offer exciting new gameplay twists though managing to maintain truly emotional and heartfelt.
While you spend no more than 10-15 minutes with each deceased member of the family, the time spent with them is so intense, personal and close to the bone that you leave having had your heart strings tugged. Through your two hours or so of playtime, the family tree is slowly filled as you progress through the house, discovering tender relationships and truths that Edith had been mislead to believe. Though the conclusion is easy to predict early on, it is the manner in which you get there that makes it worth your time as every small snippet of information reveals huge truths about the Finch family.
What Remains of Edith Finch is what happens when you get things right. First-person adventures often feel slow, sluggish and long in the tooth, this isn’t any. The obscurity of the Finch house itself is enough reason to play, but matched with a gripping story and varied gameplay mechanics introduced around every corner, it stands out as a triple-threat. I left feeling not only closure on the family’s history, interpreting the curse in my own way, but I was desperate for more and to return to see if I’d missed anything equally as important.
What Remains of Edith Finch (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
For want of a better term, What Remains of Edith Finch is a playable family tree. Hidden revelations and unpredictable tragedies complement what is an unnerving but somehow warming experience.