What Re­mains Of Edith Finch

EDGE - - CONTENTS - Developer Gi­ant Spar­row Pub­lisher An­na­purna In­ter­ac­tive For­mat PC, PS4 (ver­sion tested) Re­lease Out now

PC, PS4

Just as the la­bel ‘walk­ing sim­u­la­tor’ has been adopted by the de­vel­op­ers (and play­ers) it was coined to dis­par­age, Gi­ant Spar­row’s sec­ond game shows an ea­ger­ness to avoid be­ing pi­geon­holed as such. Yes, there’s some walk­ing in­volved in this lean, yet rangy, nar­ra­tive ad­ven­ture. But, as the developer proves in a bravura early se­quence, What Re­mains Of Edith Finch is equally happy to be a pounc­ing, swoop­ing, rolling, swim­ming and slith­er­ing sim. If oc­ca­sion­ally un­gainly in ex­e­cu­tion, it’s daz­zlingly con­ceived, and an ex­hil­a­rat­ing early sign of great things to come.

This might not be the game you’re ex­pect­ing, then, but there’s no bait-and-switch here. It’s not a char­ac­ter study pre­tend­ing to be a mys­tery thriller, nor a fam­ily drama mas­querad­ing as a hor­ror. It’s ad­mirably plain about its in­ten­tions from the out­set. As the young woman of the ti­tle, you re­visit your fam­ily home in ru­ral Washington State af­ter your mother’s death, in­tend­ing to sat­isfy your cu­rios­ity about the other Finches who have passed, and to ex­am­ine the idea that a curse is caus­ing them to die be­fore their time.

It’s a macabre con­ceit, and the house it­self does lit­tle to dis­pel early sug­ges­tions that we might be in for a scare or two. It’s an ec­cen­tric piece of ar­chi­tec­ture that looks rel­a­tively nor­mal on the ground floor but gets pro­gres­sively stranger the fur­ther up you go. On one side, you’ll see a crooked tower of rooms built on top of one an­other, pre­car­i­ously perched on a tree jut­ting out from what was once the top floor.

In­side, how­ever, there’s lit­tle to be afraid of. There’s noth­ing ab­nor­mal, be­yond a sur­plus of clut­ter. Tins of salmon are stacked up in the kitchen, while busy walls are cov­ered in plaques and paint­ings, and can­dles are lib­er­ally scat­tered through­out the house. And books are ev­ery­where: piled up on shelves, lin­ing the sides of the stair­case, or crammed above an arched door­way.

But then this is a house full of sto­ries, the most im­por­tant of which are still un­der lock and key. Edith’s mother, Dawn, has sealed up the bed­rooms of the de­parted in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to con­fine the hoodoo, which has trans­formed the Finch house into some­thing of a mau­soleum. It’s a con­trivance that makes the place more fun to ex­plore, an in­tri­cate puz­zle box of hid­den pas­sages and crawlspaces of­fer­ing al­ter­na­tive en­try points to ar­eas that serve as her­met­i­cally pre­served me­mo­ri­als. Each room’s decor might of­fer a sem­blance of its former in­hab­i­tant, but we get a fuller pic­ture of the per­son when Edith ex­am­ines a let­ter or me­mento and we ex­pe­ri­ence a brief taste of their life.

In less ca­pa­ble hands, this could be hor­ri­bly maudlin or ghoul­ish. In Gi­ant Spar­row’s, it’s any­thing but. The developer doesn’t down­play the tragedies, but these in­ter­ac­tive flash­backs are fre­quently play­ful, sur­pris­ing, and oc­ca­sion­ally even blackly funny. This game makes you more than just a pas­sive ob­server of past events; in­stead, you’re af­forded a fleet­ing op­por­tu­nity to in­habit these poor un­for­tu­nates be­fore they die. Yes, you’re es­sen­tially march­ing them to­wards their deaths in many cases, but with their fates al­ready de­ter­mined, it’s a chance to see the world as they did. Con­stantly shift­ing sto­ry­telling meth­ods also help pre­vent Edith’s jour­ney from be­com­ing a gloomy wal­low in melan­cho­lia. An older an­ces­tor’s tale is told through the im­ages of a View-Mas­ter reel, while a child star’s fall from grace is cap­tured in the pan­els of a dime-store comic, and ac­com­pa­nied by an iconic movie theme that’s flaw­lessly de­ployed. There are plenty of in­ven­tive flour­ishes be­sides, the dis­cov­ery of which we’ll leave un­spoiled.

Per­haps more sig­nif­i­cantly, these di­verse nar­ra­tive tech­niques aren’t sim­ply va­ri­ety for va­ri­ety’s sake, but are also an at­tempt to com­mu­ni­cate mean­ing through in­ter­ac­tion. Your in­puts are al­ways in ser­vice of the story; like­wise, the shifts in perspective. Even the sim­plest ac­tiv­i­ties are de­light­fully tac­tile, whether you’re winding a music box, pulling a han­dle, or even just nudg­ing the stick to close Edith’s jour­nal once a sce­nario has reached its in­evitable con­clu­sion. It’s clear Gi­ant Spar­row has in­vested great care and thought in how best to tell these sto­ries, rather than set­ting the player per­func­tory ob­jec­tives tan­gen­tially re­lated to the plot. On a base level, you’re still ex­plor­ing an empty en­vi­ron­ment, but here you’re do­ing much more than sim­ply fol­low­ing a pa­per trail or lis­ten­ing to sur­ro­gate au­dio logs. It’s a game that in­volves you more di­rectly in its sto­ry­telling, and it en­velops you all the more deeply as a re­sult.

And, to use that re­claimed catch-all, this is one walk­ing sim that doesn’t drag its feet. Edith’s poignant nar­ra­tion (half cu­ri­ous, half re­signed) is over­laid on the en­vi­ron­ment, gen­tly guid­ing you through, while bright glows on key items draw your eye, en­sur­ing you’re never left won­der­ing what to do or where to go next. Some sto­ries are over in a heart­beat; oth­ers last longer, but these are novel­las, not sagas. Even so, by the bit­ter­sweet end­ing, you’ll feel like you’ve trav­elled far­ther and dis­cov­ered more than in games five times the length.

There’s no es­cap­ing that this will, for some, be an emo­tion­ally de­mand­ing game. But it says much that even the most po­ten­tially up­set­ting se­quence is han­dled in al­most cel­e­bra­tory fash­ion. As Edith her­self im­plies in a late-game voiceover, a per­son’s pass­ing is not just a time to grieve, but an op­por­tu­nity to com­mem­o­rate their life – or even to ap­pre­ci­ate the mir­a­cle of ex­is­tence. It’s a sen­ti­men­tal thought that in­forms a re­mark­able, big-hearted game from a developer whose de­but gave barely a hint of the sto­ry­telling con­fi­dence and poise on show here. What Re­mains Of Edith Finch is any­thing but un­fin­ished; it might even set a new bench­mark for the nar­ra­tive ad­ven­ture.

By the end­ing, you’ll feel like you’ve trav­elled far­ther and dis­cov­ered more than in games five times the length

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