The beauty of the gaming medium is that its interactive nature allows for unique ways of storytelling that you wouldn’t find in other passive mediums such as films or books. The active nature of it means that the player has the choice to interact with their environment the way that they see fit, which in turn helps shape their experience and unique interpretations of the narrative. Recently, there have been several games that focus mainly on storytelling through walking in the shoes of the main protagonist while exploring their environment in order to craft their own interpretation of the narrative.
Dubbed first person “walking sims”, games like Gone Home and Blackwood Crossing focus more on the narrative aspect of the game instead of the gameplay, often to the detriment of their detractors. However, developer Giant Sparrow’s looks to take the genre a step further by introducing unique gameplay elements throughout the narrative of their newest game What Remains of Edith Finch, often with successful results. Framed as a collection of playable short stories, What Remains of Edith Finch explores the nature of death through a series of short stories, each of the Finch family.
What Remains of Edith Finch: PS4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Developer: Giant Sparrow
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Release Date: PC, PS4 25 April 2017/ Xbox One 19 July 2017
Price: £15.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Like other walking simulator games such as Firewatch and Blackwood Crossing, What Remains of Edith Finch is driven primarily by its narrative. You take control of the Edith Finch, a 17-year-old girl who returns to her old abandoned family house following the death of her mother. Armed with nothing more than a mysterious key and a determination to uncover the truth, Edith takes a journey of discovery as she navigates through the maze-like house full of secret passageways leading into the rooms of her deceased family members. The first thing you’ll likely notice in the beginning is that the massive house seems to be cobbled together like a Frankenstein monster. Towering as tall as a building, it appears cobbled together with the remains of other homes and looks as if it could crumble under its own weight at any given moment.
The house isn’t the only thing strange though, as you’ll soon find out that the Finch family is plagued by a curse which causes every member of the family to meet grisly, shocking and untimely deaths. Death is the central theme of the game, and it’s littered everywhere in the Finch estate. Every room looks like a tribute to a dead family member, with old photos, memorabilia, and newspaper article placed carefully as a memorial to that person’s life (and more importantly, the circumstances surrounding their death). Whether these circumstances leading up to their deaths were caused by a freak accident, mere coincidence, or a deep pervasive underlying curse is something that Edith is determined to figure out in her return home.
As Edith enters each locked up room of each member of the family (through following the secret passages and doorways), she’ll come across letters or diary entries which detail on how that family member passed away, followed by a firsthand recollection as you play through their experiences leading up to their death. Each flashback sequence takes place in a different location and time, as Edith’s journey takes her through three generations of the Finch family.
Not only do you play as a different member of the Finch family, but each sequence introduces a new gameplay feature, such as playing through a young girl’s fantasy of being different animals, taking photos of a family hunting event, or reading through a comic and taking control of the character in specific panels. While the controls are very simple with the player using only the two sticks to move the character around and the right trigger button used to interact with the environment, the unique gameplay element introduced in each family members stories helps keep the gameplay feel fresh and non-repetitive.
It’s quite easy to be fully immersed into the setting, which is due in part to the incredible attention to detail in the aesthetics in the game. Everything in the Finch house was placed with a fine attention to detail that the house itself can be seen as another member of the family; one that is ingrained with the curse that seemingly plagues the Finch family. There are some pretty clever visual and gameplay effects in some of the later stories as well, which works perfectly with the tale that was crafted during those sequences. This coupled with the subtle yet powerful soundtrack works perfectly in conjunction to create the appropriate atmosphere for their specific story.
What Remains of Edith Finch tells one of the most riveting stories found in the gaming medium to date. The emotional story paired with the inventive gameplay for each member of the Finch family makes What Remains of Edith Finch one of the best games in the first person “walking sim” genre. There are many layers to dissect by the time the credits roll as you ponder the true nature of the “curse” and its implications on the family. The tale of each family is as memorable as their gameplay element, meaning you’ll never feel bored of the monotony during the roughly two-hour playthrough. Furthermore, there is an incredible level of detail in every room that adds to the story of each family member and in the house entirely that it’s likely you won’t discover everything your first playthrough.