The term ‘Walking Simulator’ likely originates from deep within the bowels of a forgotten Reddit or gaf forum – probably to criticize video games like What Remains of Edith Finch. Since then, the term has been lovingly adopted by the very same developers who create these kinds of interactive stories. They’ve reclaimed the word and molded this genre providing some truly amazing, heart-felt, and beautiful experiences. Edith Finch is no exception.
What Remains of Edith Finch is the second game by developer Giant Sparrow; their first being the BAFTA-award-winning The Unfinished Swan. The game tells the story of the Finches – America’s most unfortunate family. The Finches, as far back as they can trace their history, have been followed by a curse that has caused many of the family members to meet an untimely death.
The game takes place on the Washington coast, at the Finches estate – a beautifully crafted house with an eccentric flair. The home has hidden passage ways, rooms that have been sealed off, and other rooms that have been tacked onto the original building over time. The house itself is a character. It creaks and moans like its alive. Its personality speaks through its uneven walls and custom windows, and the history and mystery of the people who have lived and died within them. It’s haunting, yet comforting and somehow familiar.
You play as Edith, the last known living Finch. She hasn’t been to the family estate in nearly a decade, but, upon the death of her mother, and receipt of the willed key to the house, she returns to piece together her families legacy, and to find some answers for herself.
Throughout your travels within the abandoned home, Edith will recount and discover stories about each former resident – their lives, their personalities, their desires, and ultimately their end. Each story is typically accompanied by an interactive flash back of sorts. The player will man the current Finch family member of whom Edith is describing, and you will unfold how they met their demise.
These moments aren’t often literal reenactments of the event – they’re told through poetry, distorted memories, photographs, and fantasy. They’re told in a way that preserves the person that the story is about. In a way that focuses on the awful truth of their passing while creating an almost magical explanation for why they went. Each story will hurt; sometimes leaving you to piece together what truly happened. Each memory will well up inside you a pain and joy that are both equal in weight.
The excellent story telling in What Remains is not only done through the brilliantly written narrative, but also by the environment you travel through. The house is cluttered with memorabilia going back 5 generations. Stacks of books sit on the wooden floors tracing the hallway walls. Family photos and painted memorials cover the walls and fill cluttered shelves. Newspaper clippings, trinkets, canned foods – everything that you see within and around the Finch manor is put there with a purpose. It is connected to someone. There is a tangible link and past to each object that assist everything else in telling you about Edith and her family. People lived in this house – they lived.
What Remains of Edith Finch is one of the most well written games that I’ve played all year. It’s dark and sad, yet uplifting. It’s an inspirational story about learning, self-discovery, family, and loss. In the short three to four hours it takes to complete I felt like I truly knew the Finches, and I didn’t want to leave. Giant Sparrow managed to balance the whimsy and magic of life with the bitter reality of death in a way that can only be accomplished by a game of this genre and caliber.
Pick up the title if you haven’t already, and introduce yourself to the Finch family.