If Giant Sparrow’s The Unfinished Swan was equal parts a celebration of both sorrow and delight, What Remains of Edith Finch is very clear with its intention to embody strictly the former. Through this, the game sends the player on a journey both real and metaphysical, taking control of Edith Finch to explore the grim past of her largely deceased and decaying family tree.
It’s true Edith Finch is yet another Gone Home-style walking simulator, but by now the genre is entrenched enough that such labels should not be held against it. Rather than swipe the style of other games, What Remains of Edith Finch carves out its own niche, its own story beats and, ultimately, its own unique and morbidly affecting mood.
Little Remains of Any Finch
The first thing you should know about the Finches is that they’re terribly ridden with misfortune. Though its tone is far more straight-faced, I was nearly reminded of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as the outcome for most members of the Finch family can only be described as impossibly grim and terribly unlucky. This is even reflected somewhat in the game’s artstyle; though decidedly more Gone Home meets BioShock than anything Tim Burton, the Finch’s cobbled tower of a home could easily house the likes of Count Olaf or Aunt Josephine. Better yet, you might even expect to find it within one of Tomorrow Corporation’s charmingly macabre 2D jaunts. But I digress.
What Remains is structured as a series of vignettes, with each room in the Finch’s home representing a deceased family member via which Edith can gather clues, insights, and even experience scenes from the past. Welcome is the variety brought to clue gathering; while it’s true some genre staples appear (recordings, notes, journals, and the like), there are also creative means of obtaining info that I won’t spoil here, but you’ll surely tip your cap to Giant Sparrow for. Despite this, I did feel clue gathering grew a bit stale as the game progressed – I realize many players feel these segments build suspense or establish mood, but for me if they last too long the opposite begins to occur. Admittedly, it could be the fault of this particular reviewer, as I doubt the excessive combing-over of every last nook and cranny is necessary outside of an escape-the-room setting. My advice would be to search but not scour, and the pacing will likely work out for you.
The Finch mansion is spooky, but not horrifically so; despite a rather unsettling opening, the title is more Luigi’s Mansion than Resident Evil or Silent Hill (except with far more death and morbid imagery). Traversal is better than I thought possible – monotony is alleviated by constant environmental stimulation, be it Edith’s memories overlapping with reality or actual bits of text appearing in her line of sight to offer clues or information. There are certainly moments of familiarity straight from other games, but on the whole they’re co-opted tastefully; the game moves its curious genre in the right (or at least a new) direction, and for that it should be commended.
Uncovering the Truth
With all of that said, What Remains of Edith Finch is more about story than gameplay, and the passive vignettes that detail each family member’s death are going to be the highlight for most players. Some are certainly stronger than others, but stepping into the shoes of each and every Finch in their final moments before certain death delivers an eerie sensation. Something about being in their shoes, but knowing you aren’t actually them but Edith’s consciousness, heightens awareness and, of course, adds to the “visceral spookiness” the game is so adept at conjuring.
As I progressed room to room I came to anticipate these vignettes, hungry to know how and why the next Finch passed on, and compare that with my theories based on what I’d uncovered to that point. I’ll admit as the game wore on I grew just the slightest bit weary of the formula, but thankfully this is an experience that does not overstay its welcome and knows precisely when to tie things up.
Unfortunately, neatly tied up is not exactly how I would describe Edith Finch’s conclusion, and while I’m all for open-ended, philosophical, or contemplative conclusion, I can’t deny that ultimately I did feel a little bit let down. I’m the sort who craves the “why” of any situation, and as such not earning a wordy, overwrought breakdown explaining the Finch’s inability to not die was, to me, a disappointment. This is purely my own stance, however; some players no-doubt prefer subtle delivery that leaves the player room to interpret or imagine, and if that’s you then you’re sure to enjoy the Finch’s tale start-to-finish even more than I did. For me though, the journey far outdid the destination, for better or worse.
Ultimately I consider What Remains of Edith Finch less essential than The Unfinished Swan, but certainly not less worthwhile. This is a moody, thoughtful, and often harrowing account of Edith and her tragedy-ridden kin, and if you’re the sort who finds tragic or adverse accounts to be of the highest profundity, you’ll likely adore what’s displayed throughout this exploration of mansion, mind, and psyche.
If you’re more like me, though, and deviate from the assessment of tragic events as an inherently higher form, then you may find the Finch’s tale doesn’t activate your almonds as much as it probably should. Still, as a spooky, logical evolution of the Gone Homes and Firewatches of the world, with an impressive short-story style to boot, What Remains of Edith Finch is ultimately worth your time if its premise grabs you.
Griffin Vacheron is an Editor at GameRevolution. You can follow him on Twitter @novacav.
A PS4 copy of What Remains of Edith Finch was provided by its publisher. This game is also available on PC.