Despite my current fascination with mechanics, emergent gameplay and player freedom, I still try a narrative game — that’s a walking simulator for some of you — every now and then.
For me, nothing in the last year was good.
But when What Remains of Edith Finch has ended, I felt a grip on my throat, and my eyes got a little wet. “There we go”, I thought. “Finally, the glass slipper fits.”
The journey was worth it for just those ten seconds of overwhelming emotion but the game delivers throughout the entire experience. Even if objectively it does a few things wrong.
As an example of “wrong”, at its design core, the game is simply a linear set of vignettes. Some games try to use new design models to evoke the sense of presence and emphasize the player’s agency (we attempted that in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Frictional did it in SOMA, although obviously that particular game is hardly a walking simulator). With Edith Finch, Giant Sparrow (the developer) goes one step back: most of it is strictly linear, the visuals are solid but not perfectly believable (some sloppy meshing, repeated assets, etc.), and every now and then the game goes for the design blasphemy and grabs you by the neck screaming “Look! Look here!”.
However, all of these sins become almost irrelevant thanks to two things that the game does incredibly well.
First, it impresses you with the imagination of its creators. The trailers for the game might have given you an impression that this is yet another pretentious surreal indie game, but rest assured this is not the case. Spoiling even a little would be a crime, so let me just say that I have probably never played a more imaginative game in my entire life.
And the amount of work put into every minute of the game must have been insane. I mean, literally. No other game of this kind even comes close. If I ran the team the size of Giant Sparrow, I’d never greenlight this project.
Second, some — most! — of the messages and experiences the game work exceptionally well exactly because they’re offered in a video game form. They’d be interesting as a short movie, but making them interactive was, cough, a game changer. If someone ever needs a game to show how interactivity enhances the experience, not many titles could rival Edith Finch.
Sometimes, the power of interactivity trumps whatever faults a game has. The story in Destiny is hilariously bad, but who cares: no other title does the gunplay better. It’s a similar thing with What Remains of Edith Finch: its jaw-dropping imagination and emotionally charged interactivity make me not really give a damn about its slightly old school structure and a few mishaps.
Great walking sims are super rare. Edith Finch is one of them.
PS. I could not help but feel a certain extra connection to the game thanks to the fact is shares a similar core experience model with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (an explorable area filled with capsules of WTF), certain themes are common for both games, as so are some of the inspirations, be it other works of art…
…or even just a certain imagery:
But that’s what happens when you dabble in weird fiction: we all owe Lovecraft, and dark tunnels are a great metaphor (although, to be clear, that metaphor has a different meaning in Ethan and Edith).
Anyway, did I mention you should consider getting What Remains of Edith Finch? Because you should consider getting What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s great. Here’s the PC link, but it’s also available on PS4.