What Remains of Edith Finch: Houses have stories
Updated: Jul 21, 2020
I haven’t been nice to Walking Sims in the past, have I? Dear Esther (as concluded by yours truly) was called the most boring audio book. Layers of Fear I have similarly criticized as a dull, cliché ridden haunted house ride, with none of the atmosphere of the former. The Stanley Parable is a game I do respect, but was never the less underwhelmed by it. (Please be warned: Layers of Fear and The Stanley Parable are really old and are not as good as my Dear Esther review). However, I suspect that this trend of being mean to Walking Sims will be coming to an end (or at least going on break) because What Remains of Edith Finch is pretty damn brilliant.
The last remaining member of the Finch family: Edith Finch arrives back at her childhood home after her mother dies. Once inside Edith, makes her way through the house, going through each bedroom to uncover the mystery surrounding the Finch deaths. In other words, What Remains of Edith Finch knocks the story out of the park with a very small but important addition to the story. Our POV character actually has a personality and motivation in her story. This draws the player into the story as they have personal involvement in events and story procession.
Games like Dear Esther and Layers of Fear (to a lesser extent The Stanley Parable) fail because we are playing a camera with no reason to do anything, asides from pressing W for two hours. Edith Finch reminisces about the past in a sober and almost accepting way. She knows about the inescapable nature of death. The spectre of death haunts the Finch family and the house itself in ways that is tragic but also beautiful. Edith Finch embodies the themes of memory and the inescapably of death, through her actions of remembering and acceptance of the family fate.
The house to be remembered
The Finch residence itself has a lot of character in of itself. Each bedroom (in keeping with the themes of memory and inescapable death) is a shrine for each member of the Finch family. Every room is utterly unique and displays the personality of each of the seventeen members vividly. Likewise there is a element of sombre regret to many of the rooms, such as a baby’s room flooded with toys that will never be used. A grandparent’s bedroom with an unmade bed and an unfinished painting waiting for it’s painter to return.
It is important realize that the house itself, is a mass graveyard entombed by memory. I love how the game builds intrigue at the start of the game; the house is drowning in too many books which build on the Tim Burtonesque design of the house. In the same token the design is reinforced by the little passageways and warrens that allow Edith to gain access to each room. The house has personality, intrigue and a memorable design that prop up the themes.
Gameplay, at first glance is standard Walking Sim affair. You press W and you observe your surroundings with the mouse. This on its own would be rather unremarkable and even rather boring. However, unlike some of the other Walking Sims mentioned in the intro. More over What Remains of Edith Finch is not just a sight show that we are supposed to look at environments but never allowed to touch.
A bad Walking Sim is a audio book without the benefit of being productive, or amounts to more then uncompelling exposition being warbled at you. Edith Finch actually takes advantage of the benefits of the interactive medium by creating the smallest interactions. Such as a music box has to be wound up in order to obtain a key. Doors that need to be opened or peep holes that can be peeped through. What Remains of Edith Finch is a Walking Sim that is not ashamed to be a game; it takes advantage of the medium to make a world that feels alive.
Seventeen minigames for Seventeen members
In keeping with being a game as opposed to...whatever the hell Dear Esther was, Edith Finch hands the player control during events. Each member of the Finch household tells the story of their life/death though a series of minigames. These can be anything from interacting with a toy camera to day dreaming of heroic quest while working a tedious dead end job. Furthermore all of these minigames are mapped to the same control scheme (mouse and wasd and yet the controls are tight and pleasant to use, the sign of a skilled dev team if you ask me.)
These minigames not only dodge a common pitfall of Walking Sims where all the interesting stuff has already happened and you are stuck with the boring aftermath. By allowing us to take control of a character’s actions (in very different ways) the player becomes invested. Each minigame has it’s own tone as well as gameplay, these can range from the darkly comic to the downright disturbing. The tone undergoes changes which halts stagnation as well as argues for the individual experience.
The house to be explored
The Finch house itself is created in a very linear fashion; Please keep in mind that there is no reason to stay in one room once finished. However the level design hides the linearity by forcing the player to go hidden doors and corridors. The level design fixes a common flaw in Walking Sims where all you do is press W for two hours. You have to crawl through vents, climb stairs and walls and look for keys to unlock doors. Edith Finch does have a lot of walking but creates the illusion of adventure by forcing the playing to travel by unorthodox methods.
Art style and Graphics:
What Remains of Edith Finch’s graphics are rather decent, the surrounding woods and the house itself are very lush with colour and detail. However the human models (very few times we see any human models) have some really bad texture. Their skin looks deathly pale, as if they had never been out in the sun. The human textures betray the game’s low budget. However Edith Finch makes up its underwhelming graphical fidelity with some inspired imagery. The outward design of the house is brilliantly memorable in its surreal beauty. The madness stands out all the more in the mundane surroundings.
What Remains of Edith Finch defies the tedium of other Walking Sims to become something truly special. A heartfelt story that never stops being engaging or sympatric to its cast of doomed characters. A game that takes elevates the genre beyond the pretensions/boring conventions of other games it shares genres with. What Remains of Edith Finch is well worth the time and money.