Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What Remains of Edith Finch Review (XONE)

Games like ABZU, RiME, Journey, and Firewatch give you great presentation, great stories, AND actual gameplay, which is why they stand out above the crowd. Joining them as one of the best the walking simulator genre has to offer is What Remains of Edith Finch, a fantastic narrative driven adventure that not only checks the good story and great presentation boxes, but has multiple unique gameplay styles that make it one of the most memorable games of 2017. See our full Xbox One review of What Remains of Edith Finch for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
  • Developer: Giant Sparrow
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Narrative Driven Adventure
  • Pros: Fascinating story; lots of varied gameplay styles; nice presentation; lots of absolute “wow” moments
  • Cons: Too short
  • MSRP: $20
What Remains of Edith Finch is the story of a cursed family and their crazy house on an island off the coast of Washington state. Eleven members of the Finch family have lived in the house and all died early and sudden deaths. When a family member passed, their room was sealed off with all of their belongings inside, which means there is a lot of wasted space taken up by locked rooms. In order to make space for new members of the family, the house just kept getting added onto with new floors and rooms until it was a Frankenstein’s monster of a house. Or, as my first thought, it kinda looks like The Burrow in “Harry Potter”. You visit the house as Edith Finch, the last surviving member of the Finch family, as she explores the house and discovers secret passageways that allow her into all of the sealed rooms so she can learn about her family’s unfortunate past.

If walking around a big weird house and learning about your family sounds familiar, that’s because Gone Home did this a few years ago. Unlike Gone Home, however, What Remains of Edith Finch has a more interesting story to tell, a cooler house to explore, and actual gameplay that makes Gone Home seem like a boring pile of puke. Yeah, I went there.

The core gameplay of What Remains of Edith Finch is a first person walking simulator as you walk around the house and explore, but what sets it apart is that as you find a memory or photo or letter belonging to each deceased family member, the gameplay changes to something else as you live out that person’s last moments from their perspective. One sequence has you turning into a bunch of different animals during a fever dream. Another has you flying a kite on a stormy day. One has you simultaneously chopping the heads off of fish at a cannery while also playing through a daydream represented by videogames that get increasingly more modern (it starts as an oldschool Atari maze crawler and ends up like a modern 3D Final Fantasy …). Yet another sequence has you playing through a comic book turned horror movie. All eleven of the Finch family memories you play through have distinct and varied gameplay and all of them are absolutely fantastic. Every single gameplay shift and new revelation had me saying “Wow” and even occasionally wow’s grown up big brother, “Holy shit”.

Those moments are what make What Remains of Edith Finch so special. The story of the family is fascinating and the various sad and shocking ways so many of them died – and actually playing through them rather than just watching or being told about them like in so many other walking simulators – is just really incredible. Having so many different gameplay mechanics that all work so well is an astounding accomplishment and for it to all come together into such a coherent whole really showcases developer Giant Sparrow’s talent. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer, but I also have to concede that if much more were added to pad the two-hour runtime it would probably ruin the fine balance and pacing the game currently has.

The presentation in What Remains of Edith Finch is just as nice as the rest of the game with fantastically detailed graphics, great voice work, and a solid soundtrack. One touch I really like is that the story is told both through narration as well as words that actually appear in the world. These words help point you in the right direction to keep you moving forward, not that you could necessarily ever get lost, but are accompanied by subtle little automatic camera nudges to make sure you’re looking where you’re supposed to so you don’t miss anything important. Far too often in other walking simulators have I missed stuff because I was too busy gawking at something pointless, so I’m a fan of this style of lightly giving you a push in the proper direction when necessary.

I’ve always defended the walking simulator genre as being worthwhile experiences even if they don’t have traditional gameplay, but I have to admit that what separates the great ones from the rest of the growing pack does ultimately come down to giving you something more interesting to do than simply walking around like in Everybody's Gone to the Rapture or Dear Esther. When you are more involved and active in the story through actual gameplay it makes the whole experience that much more satisfying and enjoyable and memorable and this is why What Remains of Edith Finch is so darn fantastic. It is a complete package of presentation, story, storytelling, and honest to goodness gameplay that is simply outstanding. It’s always kind of hard to recommend a two-hour game with a $20 price tag, but when it is one of the best experiences of the generation I think the price is justified. What Remains of Edith Finch is highly, highly recommended for a purchase.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.