For me, walking simulators often tread a very fine line between being pretentious wank and thoroughly engaging experimentation. Minimalist gameplay means that if your story isn’t top notch then you’re dead on arrival, and any mechanics that are there have to facilitate the experience. A failure in the latter was a large contributing factor towards my disdain for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which despite a decent story forced you to walk at a sloth-like pace through too many empty and uninteresting spaces. Fortunately, despite its lack of conventional gameplay What Remains of Edith Finch is one of the most beautiful and moving experiences of my lengthy gaming career, and the current pinnacle in terms of the way in which walking simulators can get us to engage with a story and characters in profound ways.
The house that Finch built
From developers Giant Sparrow (of The Unfinished Swan fame), What Remains of Edith Finch puts you in the shoes of a young Edith, as she returns to her family home many years after abandoning it along with her mother. Exploring the house and its many nooks and crannies, Edith relives the memories of generations of the Finch family who once dwelled within the house. The Finches are a somewhat cursed bunch, prone to untimely deaths in odd scenarios, and in many cases they leave this mortal coil at tragically young ages.
The game’s mechanics couldn’t be simpler. You move and look around with the thumbsticks, and there is a single button for interacting with clearly marked objects or to perform a handful of context-sensitive actions. WRoEF’s gameplay is extremely passive by design; there are no real puzzles as such, just ponderous exploration of the house and its many rooms. This isn’t to say that the gameplay isn’t varied, as often you’ll interact with a diary or memento which will transport you to surreal and deeply personal spaces linked to the Finch family, which changes the dynamic completely. You might suddenly become a cat leaping from a window, conduct a toy orchestra during bath time, or end up photographing a fresh kill on a family member’s first hunt. All of the Finch family members have an interesting story to tell, and the surrealist nature of it all ensures it’s almost impossible to determine fact from fiction.
WRoEF’s visuals are stunning, and the way the style shifts and changes during memory sequences is a constant source of wonder, and not something I intend to spoil here. Even outside of these sequences when you’re anchored in reality, the Finch house you
The night is dark and full of terrors
explore is a character unto itself, featuring wildly unconventional makeshift architecture densely packed with clutter and intriguing remnants of generations of adults and children past. The soundscape is also meticulously paired with the visuals, helping to create a fantastic sense of atmosphere. Most of your time is spent in quiet exploration, and during these times the minimalist piano score and melancholy tone manages to seep its way into your soul. This is a game best enjoyed with the lights off and a good pair of headphones (and maybe a cheeky glass of wine or two).
While a strong vein of tragedy weaves its way through the Finch’s lives, their experiences are less about wallowing in the sadness of death, but rather taking solace in the miracle of having lived at all
This could very well be my kitchen
Memories of Vault of Glass with DYEGB Managing Director Zach Jackson
What Remains of Edith Finch is a surreal journey through a family’s cursed history. While a strong vein of tragedy weaves its way through the Finch’s lives, their experiences are less about wallowing in the sadness of death, but rather taking solace in the miracle of having lived at all. As a father and human being I experienced everything from soul-crushing sadness to moments of sheer elation. It is a testament to creativity, wonder and imagination, an interactive piece of art that isn’t really a game, but paradoxically couldn’t work as anything else.
Reviewed on PS4