Amongst the fervent bickering over microtransactions and console wars, you could be excused for forgetting that video games are an incredibly unique and affecting artistic medium. Whether it’s Grand Theft Auto V portraying the complex bonds and uproarious humour between people of radically different social groups or Journey whisking people back to primitive days where communication was performed in grunts, every game without exception is in some way a work of art that can evoke a remarkable range of emotions. What Remains Of Edith Finch is fully cognizant of this and subjects you to a roller coaster of emotions through what is an incredibly well-designed and absorbing addition to the often derided ‘walking simulator’ genre.
From the moment you step off the boat and traverse through the unkempt undergrowth to a patchwork house that wouldn’t look out of place in a Studio Ghibli film, an eerie sense of forbidding caution becomes all-consuming, leaving you unsure and apprehensive of everything that’s unfolding out in front of you. The inverted family tree artistically scribbled into your journal confirms you’re the last remaining descendant of the Finch family, the only other slither of information being that your entire extended family all died at different ages and times. This information is presented at the onset and the game directs you around the grandiose mansion to find out how each of them met their often untimely demise. As you explore the rooms of this maze-like house you’re whisked into various characters’ shoes, playing out their final hours or days through their own eyes and mind.
This may seem rather macabre, yet as many other games play out death as something to both fear and run from, What Remains Of Edith Finch doesn’t deign us unnecessary gory details. Instead, it focuses on the state of mind and complexly knitted relationships the characters had, demonstrating how intriguing, yet fragile the human mind can be.
This game will undoubtedly be endearing to fans of Giant Sparrow’s previous title, The Unfinished Swan, although this time they have chosen not to revolve the narrative around just one person’s coping mechanism against all-consuming emotion. In What Remains Of Edith Finch they have intentionally laced almost every short story with either physical or psychological trauma, be it narcissism, despression, terminal illness, tragedy or grief to reflect how abundant these obstacles are and always have been in society at large.
When it comes to discussing the narrative, I’m incredibly cautious about delving into any specifics of such a game that will mostly impress those committing to blind playthroughs. Nevertheless, it cannot be understated just how different each short story you uncover is. Art style, music, even the level of interaction with what’s in front of you varies immensely from tale to tale but the game’s predominant characteristic of being able to evoke both anxiety and sympathy in equal measure lingers throughout each encounter.
Giant Sparrow are unlikely to change the opinion of those who deride ‘walking simulators’, a dismissive term coined by those who scoff at the though of having no ‘Game Over’ screen. If anything, What Remains Of Edith Finch is an unabashed homage to everything the genre’s critics hate. It takes barely two hours to complete, it’s incredibly linear to the point of absurdity and the interactions are so natural your mind is left entirely to get lost in its fascinating plot. Even if it’s unable to convert those who prefer something a little more challenging, many new fans will undoubtedly be made as it increases in popularity. The game is welcoming and accessible to those who may not be ardent gamers and for less than £15, you’ll get just as much enjoyment watching your friend or partner playing it as you do yourself.
What Remains Of Edith Finch tells a series of beautifully interwoven tales cemented into your character’s history. While this future beacon of its genre manages to evoke many distinctive and contrasting emotions, the underlying current of darkness and the hypnotically immersive interactions throughout each epistle will leave a long-lasting impression that very few games manage to achieve.