Since the release a few years ago of Gone Home, developers have attempted to recreate the game’s retail success with the creation of a new genre of games. Jokingly nicknamed “walking simulators” for the gameplay consisting of a first or third person protagonist simply wandering around and clicking on points of interest, they’ve met with varying levels of success. Created by Giant Sparrow, the same team that brought you quirky environment painter game The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch will be fondly remembered as a solid entry in the walking simulator category, if not be 2017’s answer to Gone Home.
What is What Remains of Edith Finch? A bite-sized little game where you play as the title character, Edith Finch, who heads back to her childhood home in the northwestern United States following the death of her mother. You see, the Finch family, starting all the way back in the late 1800s, has a somewhat unfortunate “curse” about their family: everyone in the Finch lineage seems to die tragically. Edith has not been back to her family home because of story reasons you discover in the course of your “investigation.” As the last living Finch family member, Edith returns home to try and figure out some of the mysteries around her family’s curse and string of untimely deaths.
As the player, the second you see the Finch family home, you can tell that this is going to be an interesting ride. In what can only be described as a home designed by Tim Burton having a fever dream, the impossibly designed Finch estate is filled with trap doors and secret passages full of rooms, each telling the story of the dead relative who stayed there. Edith moves from room to room, discovering how each of her relatives died: some mundane, some seemingly otherworldly, but all of which imply that there is something going on at that house.
There’s not a lot of “gameplay” per se, and even for a walking simulator, there aren’t even really a lot of different parts of the environment to interact with. Where in Gone Home, you were opening every single drawer for clues, the story beats in What Remains of Edith Finch are scattered throughout the house and clearly marked with a white wisp-like dot over top of them. What Remains of Edith Finch is relying on you, as someone who is playing a story-based game, to take time out, look around at your surroundings and take in the environmental storytelling. Sure, if you go directly to the wisp and click a button, you’ll get your measured portion of plot explaining how Uncle Richard was beaten to death with a frozen badger (that’s a joke), but if you take the time to look around Uncle Richard’s (there is no ‘Uncle Richard’ character) room that he lived in, you’ll find a lot about Uncle Richard that they do not go into detail with.
I was a little concerned at the start of What Remains of Edith Finch about Edith’s walking speed. There is no way to jog or sprint, and I was concerned we might have another situation like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. If you missed that game, Rapture is another walking simulator where the pace at which the lead character trudged around the massive environments was unacceptably slow. However, my concerns were quickly put to rest; the path through your exploration throughout the house is fairly straightforward, with not a lot of room to just wander around. This takes some of the sting out of not being able to move more quickly, and the story is constantly, constantly unfolding in front of you in the form of giant text being overlayed on top of the environment. Rapture made the unfortunate mistake of creating a massive English countryside to wander around in with very little in the way of guidance and then making you walk at a snail’s pace. In What Remains of Edith Finch, you are always being engaged, to the point where you forget you’re not exactly moving around quickly.
Despite not being a lot of things to pick up and interact with in the environment, the What Remains of Edith Finch team made up for it by doing a magnificent job of handcrafting scenarios behind the death sequence for each member of the family tree. The story and in-game interaction behind Edith’s older brother Lewis and baby nephew Gregory left me feeling somewhat stunned by not just what the story told, but how the story is fed to the player. Their deaths, in particular, are going to stay with me for awhile…phew.
Ironically, one of the only flaws with the game is that there are far, far too many Finches to keep track of. You’ve got 13 members of the family you’re investigating and only a few interactions with each. It gets easy to get confused as to who each character is. When Edith is talking about a particular character, generally, they’re only discussed in the room where they lived, but when there’s crossover, and she’s trying to explain how the family patriarch Odin and her great grandfather Sven and Gregory and Milton and…wait, was Milton her brother who disappeared or was that the son of Sam…or was it Jacob’s father? It can get a bit difficult to keep track of who is who.
It took three hours for me to finish Edith’s story and somewhat understand how each member of her 13-member family died, which I blasted through in one sitting. I didn’t want to get up; I had to keep playing to see what happened. However, What Remains of Edith Finch is one of those head scratchers where the final credits start rolling, and you’re left with almost more questions than when you started. I truly wish more people would have finished the game at this point because I’m not finding a lot of story discussion about it on message boards. I have no doubt by the end of the year; we’ll be hearing a lot of other outlets considering What Remains of Edith Finch for inclusion on game of the year lists. If you’re into story-driven adventure games like this, make sure you pick up What Remains of Edith Finch.
(Author’s note: Hah. I get the title now. Well played.)