Gaming Spotlight: What Remains of Edith Finch
Hey Talk Film Society readers! Welcome back to Gaming Spotlight where the TFS Staff takes a look at the world of video games with a cinematic eye. This week, staff writer Marcus Irving gives his thoughts on What Remains of Edith Finch, the recent release from developer Giant Sparrow (The Unfinished Swan) and publisher Annapurna Interactive, a division of Annapurna Pictures (The Master, Foxcatcher).
Although it might not be the prettiest or most technically proficient game to be found, What Remains of Edith Finch is a stunning example of the Walking Simulator, a genre lauded for it's storytelling ways but criticized by the gaming public writ large for the simple, unchallenging nature of its gameplay. It is true that the interactive experience might not be fully capitalized on by the Walking Simulator, but when it comes to character development, storytelling devices, and overall plot, the Walking Sim is the only genre in all of gaming that can consistently rival film in complexity while still achieving subtlety.
What Remains puts you in control of the titular Edith Finch, a pregnant 17 year old on a personal journey to her childhood home. The creaky labyrinthian abode, built by her eccentric great grandfather Odin, was home to every member of the Finch family up until their untimely (and brutal) deaths. Edith is the last member of her abnormally large family standing, and through this trip she strives to learn exactly why her family was so cursed with hopes that her and her unborn child can escape that cruel fate.
The precariously built house, located on its own island, is a maze. Secret passageways and ungodly amounts of clutter (the Finch's were apparently well read; you can't take two steps without encountering another tower of books) must've made getting around a chore, and that's not even counting the amount of closed doors: every time a family member passed away Edith's mother would seal up their room. Each room has its own theme, making discovering them a treat unto itself. The childhood scream queen, Barbara, lived in a Hollywood themed room adorned with various movie memorabilia, Great Uncle Walter's bright blue room is painted like an ocean with whales and fish on the walls, the twins' room is split evenly down the middle, Oscar and Felix style, with one side themed around space and the other the wild west.
The house bears many references to the forefathers of the Walking Sim genre. Some are obvious, like the house being directly inspired by Gone Home, but there are more subtle touches, like the train tunnel that looks not unlike the starting area of the Vanishing of Ethan Carter, the cliff sides that resemble Dear Esther's, or paintings from developer Giant Sparrow's earlier game, The Unfinished Swan, in the artist Milton's room.
The vast majority of the relatively short experience is spent through the eyes of your relatives, each one of which you play as in the moments leading up to their deaths. These sequences are what truly sets the game apart. Each one has its own gimmick mechanics, none of them could stand on their own but they work incredibly well in the bite sized portion they're in. The harsh nature of the deaths makes this a rough emotional experience at times (I had to take a break after I played the one year old Gregory's gut-wrenching section) yet each one is beautiful in its own morbid way.
Spoiling any of the Finch's ends would be a disservice to the experience, but I will say that aunt Barbara's Halloween night serial killer stalking sequence was my favorite, an absolute treat for horror fans with one of the best easter eggs I've ever encountered in a video game.
What Remains of Edith Finch is the first release from Annapurna Interactive, a new division of Annapurna Pictures, the production company behind such films as Zero Dark Thirty, The Master, and Her. They've already more than proven themselves to have an eye for quality in that space, and with this release they've showed they can bring that same sophistication to the world of video games.
Giant Sparrow made its name innovating the Walking Simulator with The Unfinished Swan, and they aren't resting on their laurels. Swan was a cheery, upbeat, distinctive game with hints of something sinister, while What Remains is a dour game with hints of innocence. The Finch story is tragic, but our heroine is hopeful. It's her life, and the only thing she can do is learn from her family's mistakes and hope that her child's life can be different.