I’m actually rather fond of walking simulator games. It scratches an itch I got while playing BioShock. Exploring Rapture was more than half the fun of that game. There were actually portions of the game where I wanted to stop shooting splicers just so I could look at the environs. Walking simulators, at their best, give you the experience of discovering a story just by looking around and interacting with your surroundings. You glean the story at your leisure by seeing environmental details.
What Remains of Edith Finch stands out from the modest crowd of walking simulator games thanks to its unique gameplay elements and odd storytelling. However, unless you’re already fond of the calm of a walking simulator, I would not necessarily recommend this game to you.
I first heard of it through the power of online reviews. While researching games like Firewatch and Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch would get mentioned a lot. Its premise intrigued me so much, I avoided reading any more about it after that. And I finally got a chance to play through it this week.
This is going to be a spoiler-heavy review. Just warning you. It’s been out for about three years, so I’m not too worried about ruining it for anyone, but if you have any interest in playing this game whatsoever, I highly recommend you stop reading now.
Side note: Huh. Feels odd to recommend people stop reading my writing.
The game starts out with narration from protagonist Edith Finch. She is who we play as for the most part, and the story is about how she is finally returning to her old family home after years away. She wants to learn more about a curse that has plagued her family tree for generations, and the only way to do this is by exploring every room of the odd-looking house.
Whenever Edith narrates something, her words physically appear in the game. I’m incredibly fond of captions, so this was a delight for me. They’re imaginatively used too. When Edith is about to open a gate, softly speaking about her trepidation returning home, her words appear above the gate. As she pushes it open, her words are shaken away by her motions.
This quirky attribute continues as Edith explores the rest of the house. The house itself is a ginormous testament to weirdness. Piles of books are everywhere, pictures completely cover nearly every wall, cans of fish are stacked on more than one kitchen counter, and odd knick-knacks litter the shelves. Many lives have passed through this house, and it clearly shows.
When you stumble into a family member’s room for the first time, you learn that this game will take on an anthology type structure. As Edith discovers important items from each family member, their stories are told and Edith learns the true extent of the “curse.”
You might be wondering at this point about what exactly this curse is. It’s never made entirely clear, but you figure out quickly enough that it has to do with every family member reaching an unfortunate and odd end.
That said, even though the different family members tell different stories through narrative and gameplay, they all end rather tragically. However, they do take on a fantastical aspect at times, making the game experience more palatable than just a march of death.
Again, I’d like to reiterate that if you haven’t played the game, you should really stop reading at this point.
Each family member has their own story that is played a different way. My favorites are as follows:
- A young girl has a dream that she gains an insatiable appetite. She imagines herself to be a cat, an owl, a shark, and a monster in quick succession, constantly finding herself hungrier and hungrier. The outlandishness of this notion, mixed with humor and horror, makes it one of the more memorable stories.
- A teenage girl spends a pulpy night of horror at home alone when a masked villain shows up on her doorstep. Told in the same manner as Tales from the Crypt, you guide her through this stereotypical fright night with only a crutch to defend herself.
- A baby’s imagination runs wild during bathtime as he leads his bath toys through orchestrated acrobatics while his parents argue in the other room. This is perhaps the saddest tale, and I did not want to see it through to completion.
- A dejected worker at a fish factory pictures himself as the hero in an isometric adventure. The images in his head soon take over his work life to an exaggerated extent. You find yourself becoming just as distracted as he is by his grand quests.
The ending feels like it comes all too soon, and to be honest, I wasn’t happy with it.
Edith’s last night at the house is explained, and yet not explained, the ambiguity of the curse being left to the player’s imagination. In addition to that, it is revealed that the words of Edith’s narration were written for her unborn son. She apparently died during childbirth, and the game ends with her son visiting her grave.
That said, the individual stories of her family members are incredibly moving and engrossing without overstaying their welcome. I’d play the game for those moments alone.
I rate What Remains of Edith Finch an interesting-walk-with-engrossing-gameplay-and-story-elements-that-made-my-jaw-drop-so-often-I-got-a-bruise-on-my-chin.