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August 2018

What Remains Of Edith Finch

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Giant Sparrow
Release Date: April 25, 2017


PS4 Review - 'What Remains of Edith Finch'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 3, 2017 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

What Remains of Edith Finch is a collection of short stories about a cursed family in Washington State.

Buy What Remains of Edith Finch

It's rare that death in video games means anything more than a quick restart, a trot back to collect your dropped souls, or restarting as a new character. There are game mechanics that give death meaning, or there might be animations that make you want to avoid it, but death itself is expected. How many of us have leapt off a cliff to see what happens or let ourselves die to save resources? That's what makes a title like What Remains of Edith Finch interesting. It's a game entirely about the consequences and influence of death, and as you can imagine, it's not a very happy ride.

What Remains of Edith Finch follows the titular character as she returns to her family home. Her mother has recently passed away and left her the key to her family estate that's more graveyard than house. It turns out the Finch family is unlucky. Their graveyard-house with its boarded-up rooms and melancholy half-finished design hides a secret: The Finches are tragedy incarnate. Edith's trip takes her on a guided tour through her family history and shows that whatever may come, one thing always awaits the Finches: shocking, sudden death.

In the traditional sense, Edith Finch is the same as many modern exploration games. You're given basic control over Edith and can explore the house, so you can look for hints about her family history. This is entirely a story-driven game, so you're not going to solve any puzzles, and any minigames exist for flavor and are unimportant in terms of mechanics. If you're not fond of narrative-driven experiences, this won't be the game for you. In terms of exploration, Edith Finch does a great job. I was genuinely drawn in and compelled to explore the strangeness of the Finch family. The pacing is excellent, and it never drags on too long before you do something new or find out new info.

The star of the show is the fate of the Finches. As Edith explores the house, she'll relive the last moments of her many, many departed family members. Each one is presented in a distinct visual style. Some are morbidly funny, and others are genuinely depressing. One involves the final moments of a baby who dies in the bathtub, and it's presented in a metaphorical way as they play with bouncing fun toys until the terrible moment when the water goes over their head. That's probably the most emotional one, but they are all over the place.

It's hard to say which emotions Edith Finch will evoke in each individual player, as it handles a weighty subject matter in a curious way. It's very easy for someone to see the same story beats that left me feeling unsettled or uncomfortable as funny. Beyond a certain point, it gets almost darkly funny to see how cursed the Finch family line is. In Edith Finch, death is inevitable. As soon as a flashback starts, you know that it is only going to end in one way.

In a way, that is perhaps Edith Finch's strength and weakness. The over-the-top elements that make it work for some people may make it too absurd for others. It has a "Tales from the Crypt" quality to it, where you're watching not for the story but to see what chain of events occurs to lead to the inevitable end. Unfortunately, this can sometimes clash with the melancholy mood that the game is trying to set. It's a somber game about death that occasionally allows itself to have fun with the morbid excesses of death. It isn't so much that it's trying to be funny as it is excessive, sometimes with light fake-outs or tricks to leave the player guessing when the hammer is going to fall.

In that way, Edith Finch is inconsistent. The history of the Finches contains some stories that hit home agonizingly well, and some tales had me rolling my eyes and waiting for the inevitable. A hunting trip went on too long for its own good and left me feeling cold, but other stories are brutally effective. In general, the short and sweet stories were the best, and the longer a story went on, the less I felt drawn to it and the more I found myself merely waiting for the punchline. It hits more than it misses, and the overall tone is excellent. It's a melancholy game about death, and it has a chilling way with words.

Unfortunately, for better or worse, that also applies to Edith herself. The full story will probably take three hours at most, and it ends in a predictable and unsatisfying way. There's clearly a reason for the ending, but it lacks punch. I was engaged with the Finch family as a whole, but the narrative framing didn't really come together. It doesn't sour the experience, but if you get deeply into What Remains of Edith Finch, you'll enjoy discussing it.

Visually, it's quite well done. Some of the character models are a little weak, but the art design is top-notch. The constantly shifting variety in presentation and environments keeps the inevitable deaths feeling fresh. Each Finch views the world in their own way, which is a great way to do subtle characterization. The melancholy mood throughout the game gives it a bunch of atmosphere, which is what really sells the game. Like The Unfinished Swan, the previous game from the developers, this game sells itself on its visuals more than anything else. Unfortunately, it does run relatively poorly, with noticeable hitches and an inconsistent frame rate. It's nothing that ruins the gameplay experience, since this is a story-driven game, but it's an unfortunate negative.

All in all, What Remains of Edith Finch is a solid experience. You're going to play through it once, which makes the $20 price tag a little difficult to swallow, but it's a well-made and interesting experience that does an excellent job in evoking emotions. The plot is slightly inconsistent, but it more than makes up for it with style. It's absolutely worth the time it takes to play through, and even if every beat doesn't hit, enough of them do to be worth your time. It won't change your mind if you dislike the "walking simulator" genre, but if you're a fan, then Edith Finch is a great experience.

Score: 8.0/10

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