What Remains of Edith Finch - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team plough through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best games will stand up to scrutiny today.
What Remains of Edith Finch only came out in April 2017, so it’s hardly a game that’s been part of my backlog for very long. It is, however, the number one game I have been wanting to clear from that backlog since it was added to my games library at release. It was incredibly well received back then and I’m full of belief it will meet my heady expectations.
15 Minutes In
I’m hooked. I knew very little about What Remains of Edith Finch. I was aware it was a walking simulator; a story to see and hear whilst being a part of it — similar to some of my favourite non-gamey games of recent years, like Her Story and Gone Home. I now so want to see where Edith’s journey takes her. It’s apparent that basically all her family are dead or gone, and her Mum just recently. She’s gone back to the childhood home that scared her — and that she hasn’t been to for years. She has a key, to what she doesn't yet know. We’re told that although this was her home, many of the rooms she was not allowed into. It also seems like something catastrophic happened leading the remaining family members to up and leave one night — and never return. Until now. Or at least that’s my supposition at this very early stage.
It took me a few minutes to get comfortable with the controls. There was no guidance so it was through trial and error that I learned R1 is pretty much your everything — definitely your action button. The analogue sticks come in useful too of course, for moving around but also some other add-ons to action moments. Whilst a little jarring due to the lack of explanation, it was easy to get going and on reflection, this method ensures the game and story are front and centre from the first minute.
It is a very pretty game as you’d expect and the whole thing looks likely to take place just in the childhood home, and it looks like a big one.
Right, must get back to the game — the atmosphere just oozes out of the screen and drags you in so quickly.
Thirty Minutes In
Well, that escalated quickly. I found a room Edith had never been in before, belonging to Molly, her maternal Great Aunt. I read a story dated December 13th, 1947 - the day Molly died - in her diary. This became a fantastic story whereby I was controlling Molly who became a cat, and then an owl, a shark and a monster. Not what I was expecting. Though it was told with such zeal and played out with such bombast that it felt powerful, it instilled fear and made me generally go “Whoa!.” Did I like it? No, not really, but only because I felt on-edge throughout. It was, however, very good. I’m now Edith again and wondering what’s next…
One Hour In
This game is just mesmerising. I literally had to force myself to pause the bloody thing to come and write this up. I’m learning about my family history. Basically, how they all died irregular deaths in and around the rebuilt family home (the first is forever located offshore having sunk towards the end of the journey from Norway to the USA. There’s a curse it seems associated with the Finches — or the house, at least. Each person’s death is told in a totally different way. We had Molly the animalic shape-shifter earlier and since then I’ve had the horror-movie star playing out their final part in the confines of an animated comic book, the flying boy and the hunting trip with a nod to Life is Strange. I know more about Edith now, too, and the overarching narrative under which all these deaths are being played out.
The bottom line is that the stories being told are delightful in their own right, fully enveloped in searing atmosphere and wonderfully spine-tingling. There’s a wonderful level of detail crammed into the game such that it feels like I’ve been playing for more than the hour I have, and my memories benefit from that greatly. It’s an exquisite patchwork of tales building up to the final quilt which keeps you fuzzy and warm.
Well that was just stunning. I sat there in awe throughout the credits. Like Her Story and Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch is a stunning example of a walking simulator done right. Each death’s story enhances the interactivity and makes it a little more gamey, with one particular episode late on requiring you to manipulate both analogue sticks to complete two parts of one person’s death. On the whole though, gameplay is minimal — but it doesn’t matter when the tale told is of this quality. To me that’s the real strength of these games, and anything which embraces a short run time (I also think of Left Behind as something of limited time but truly unlimited quality). You have not got a lot of game to worry about and not that long to tell your story, so the developers are able to focus on quality, emotion, atmosphere and then deliver something on a par with a fine motion picture — and Edith Finch delivers in every respect.