The term ‘walking simulator’ is often used in a derogatory way, but I’m a huge fan of many games that fit the description. They’re often tightly scripted, narratively satisfying experiences that don’t outstay their welcome; heavy on atmosphere and light on frustration or direct encounters with other characters.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a walking simulator with a difference though; instead of simply embodying one character and discovering or advancing the narrative through exploring your location, you’ll be taking on the roles of various Finch family members across a number of generations – as you aim to discover the stories behind each of their demises.
It’s a collection of tragedies, perhaps almost comically overwrought given how much disaster and sadness occurs in the same family, year after year. Despite this, the stories are almost universally affecting, with a few that veer into either dark humour, horror or even poignancy. By the game’s end, I was truly involved in the narrative and the characters who can’t seem to shake what may or may not be a curse upon their family.
There’s an astonishing variety in visual flourishes, storytelling techniques and styles; a whimsical journey in a bathtub, a series of scenes in which you play as various animals, a Tales from the Crypt-esque lurid comic book (with a twist in the tail) and a fantastical journey through an imaginary city are just a few of the sequences you’ll experience. The way that that the text of journals and the narrator appears in the environment, sometimes being manipulated by your movement or actions, is a wonderful touch too.
As the Finch bad luck can seem sometimes almost amusing in its relentlessness, so too can the house – that the vast majority of the story is set in – feel ridiculously full of locks, nooks, crannies, secret compartments and more bedrooms and extensions than is feasible. Yet this almost daft environment is saved by the incredible attention to detail in all of the various rooms, which tell the individual character stories so well even before you play through their particular memories.
The soundtrack is beautiful too; and there’s a particular sequence that uses seminal 70s slasher Halloween’s theme to great, creepily foreboding effect.
Though much of the stories veer into very dark territory in terms of subject matter – with a few that are particularly difficult from that point of view – they’re often lighter in tone than you would imagine. Mental illness, mortality, abuse and death are all present, but are sensitively handled.
It’s an astonishing game and an incredible experience. Though not a ‘traditional’ game in the sense that many mainstream players expect – given the lack of direct conflict or physical antagonists – it’s one that I believe should be experienced by as many people as possible; given its length and lack of standard first person mechanics, it’s also a game that non-gamers would likely find of interest too. What Remains of Edith Finch is utterly gripping, surprising and unpredictable throughout its brief running time and doesn’t outstay its welcome – and it’s one of the most beautifully crafted games I’ve played in a long time. Though I believe the furore surrounding the question ‘can games ever be considered art’ was convincingly resolved long ago, in my opinion What Remains of Edith Finch provides another conclusive answer to settle the matter beyond all reasonable doubt.
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