The BAFTA award-winning adventure game comes to Nintendo Switch, and brings with it one of the best storytelling experiences in gaming.
When hearing about the story of What Remains Of Edith Finch we imagine most people will assume the game is a survival horror. On paper the set-up sounds very similar to Eternal Darkness, and it’s natural to imagine an atmosphere inspired, if not by H.P. Lovecraft then at least Edgar Allen Poe. But while there is gothic weirdness to the game’s central location, and a definite preoccupation with mortality, this is a game about celebrating life rather than fearing death.
What Remains Of Edith Finch is a walking simulator, or whatever those who take offense to the term call games like Gone Home and Dear Esther nowadays. That means there’s almost nothing in the way of traditional gameplay, although, in its own way, it is more interactive than most of the genre’s more famous examples.
The last game by developer Giant Sparrow was The Unfinished Swan, which we weren’t the biggest fans of but certainly managed to impress with its visual style and inventiveness. There’s a similar level of visual experimentation in What Remains, but it’s the heartfelt storytelling that is central to its success.
As you might gather, you play as the titular Edith Finch, who at the beginning of the game returns to her family’s ancestral home after a long absence. It’s a very strange house though, as peculiar inside as it is out. Filled with secret rooms and passageways, and yet still with an air of lived-in normalcy, the house is now empty because Edith is the last of the family line. According to legend the Finches are victims of a curse that ensures they all suffer an unnatural early death, and Edith has returned to try and get to the bottom of things once and for all.
As ominous as all that sounds we must emphasise again that this is not a horror game, even though there is something very strange going on and some of the deaths are pretty gruesome. You discover exactly how much by exploring the house and investigating the mementos – diaries, pictures, and the like – that have been left behind, and piecing together what happened to each family member.
What you’re particularly after is the rooms most closely connected with each person, from which you can trigger a flashback where you get to see exactly how they died. You can’t change anything, because they’re already dead, but as you uncover each room and its secrets you do begin to realise that as unfortunate (or downright unlucky) as their deaths may be it’s the insight into their lives and personalities which is the most important revelation.
While What Remains Of Edith Finch doesn’t feature much in the way of actual gameplay the act of exploring and experiencing other people’s lives does feel much more involving than just wandering around reading diaries. From flying a kite to going on a hunting trip, the flashback sequences ensure the game a sense of variety that other similar titles lack.
The visual presentation throughout is excellent, with highlights such as one death being portrayed in comic book form and a particularly harrowing look into the dreams of a young girl that died well before her time. What Remains Of Edith Finch is brave in terms of both its subject matter and how it portrays it – as the past lives start to overlap with Edith’s reality and her thought process is made manifest in front of her eyes, like something out of Sherlock.
If you don’t like walking simulators then the usual complaint of this not being a ‘real’ game will still stand. But while this features less traditional gameplay than The Unfinished Swan we enjoyed it much more. Both are highly inventive in terms of their visuals, but previously they felt more like an indulgence than a real storytelling aid.
And while it might at first sound like a horror story, in the end What Remains Of Edith Finch is a touching insight into why you should worry more about how someone lives their life than how they end it.
What Remains Of Edith Finch
In Short: A compelling story well told, and although it’s still not very interactive the variety and artfulness of the presentation feels like something only a video game could do.
Pros: The plot and concept work very well at subverting expectations and provoking an emotional response to all the different flashbacks. Excellent script and graphics.
Cons: Little real gameplay, and the whole exploring-an-empty-house-while-reading-people’s-diaries concept is pretty clichéd at this point – even if this does it better than almost any other.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Giant Sparrow
Release Date: 4th July 2019
Age Rating: 16
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