As I wander down the track towards the house that towers in the distance I start to wonder what I will find. What’s waiting for me in the abandoned Finch estate. As I step closer and closer I decide to take a look in the woods before I arrive and come across a beautiful deer that I startle away. I start to regret coming back to this place and as my adventure continues I realise this was the trip didn’t know that I needed.
What remains of Edith finch is what is now referred to in the games industry as a walking simulator. The primary focus of this little gem from the boys and girls at Giant Sparrow is for the player to go on a story rich journey through some beautiful scenery to experience a narrative that’s been woven for this environment. Now I’m not the biggest fan of these games. They are painfully boring most of the time and it can be very hard to get the tale your telling to be good enough to justify such a miniscule amount of gameplay so trust me when I say that I think this game has got it right. This is far less the standard for walking simulators and really surprised me by the amount of actual gameplay that it did offer at points. The overall polish of the game shines and despite its short play time (this seems to also be a standard of the genre and I despise it really) the game rounds its tale nicely, if not a little bit strangely.
The tale of this adventure is that of Edith Finch, a young 17 year old girl who after the death of her mother has inherited the key to the old Finch Family estate. You will play as Edith as she journeys through the House and surrounding grounds looking for a connection to her old family home and the people that once lived there. the Finch family is large and expansive so expect to be doing a lot of recalling memories and people. As you journey through the mansion you will recount experiences and bits of the family’s history whilst recording the tales and people that you learn about in your journal (Edith is apparently quite the artist) in total I think there are about a dozen family members stretching from brothers to great grandparents. As you push through the house the game begins to display its main themes of family and loss. Now these can be very hard themes to handle well and I’ve played games that don’t really handle them all that well like Blackwood Crossing, but this game has a very deft touch for the subjects and they are approached with care and span the length of the game. Without spoiling too much I felt some of the recounted deaths of older family members and the shrines that you will come across for each of them to be rather touching. that is another note. Alongside each of Edith’s drawings you’ll see some great artwork for the characters displayed on wood plaques to give you a clear image of what the family looked like. The game has a very linear progression and you bounce from family member to family member with ease, sometimes a little too much ease. A fault I find with these games is there is a painful amount of hand holding.
Ok so here is something I didn’t expect to have a lot to write about. Gameplay in a walking simulator, I really have hit upon a first and I’m really pleased by this. Before this game trotted along to me I didn’t really enjoy these games. They always have a good story and good visuals but nothing really for the player to do except listen but what remains of Edith Finch bucks the trend in the games I have played in this genre. Each of the family members you encounter throughout the game or their memories at least are not just narrative. Each carries a piece of gameplay with it and each is different from the other. It’s again hard to write about without spoiling it so I’ll keep it to a minimum, the varied gameplay in this title ranges from swinging on a swing, to crawling through secret parts of the house and even a sequence where you control a small fantasy experience of your brother Lewis as you at the same time work at the salmon canning factory. The Lewis part is a little tricky at first getting the grips of controlling both the hand and the daydream he’s having at the same time while trying to listen to the exposition that goes along with the scene. And it’s not a 2D scene that’s flimsily put together the daydream that Lewis has is a fully rendered little game in itself that even affords the player to make choices for how the daydream will turn out. I picked rainbows and the electric instrument. All in all, the game gets it right for me where so many go wrong by keeping me in the game even during exposition heavy scenes. Another good example is playing as your uncle flying a kite at your grandfathers wedding. The scene is very dialogue heavy but it requires you to fly the kite into the jumbled-up words to advance through the scene, again keeping me involved during the exposition and also making me integral in its advancement. Overall the gameplay is very good for this game and even for a product with such a short story to tell you feel accomplished at the end. My favourite part though comes with Barbara, when you enter her room to learn about her death you are gifted with a unique scene which sees you play out her memory in the form of comic book. The styling is so drastically different from the rest of the game and the visuals and gameplay here are easily some of the most enjoyable in the entirety of the game. The narration at this point in the game is also rather cool with it being done by a creepy pumpkin headed dude.
In terms of appearance the game has this area locked down pretty well. The games visuals are very impressive but then again in a game where your sole purpose is to spend the whole game looking at the scenery it’s got to be good. No, we aren’t talking 4K Ultra HD but the graphics are rather well done. The detail is fine and the animations are all smooth and look natural for the most part. Saw some clunky animations later in the game but they weren’t common enough to be a real fault for the game. The environment despite being limited to just the house and the small surrounding area has a wide variety to it in terms of textures, colours and detail. This is probably most notable in the various bedrooms that you will venture into and explore as each is a lived in and unique space to the person that would once have been there, I loved Barbara’s room filled with the old movie cut-out and the posters. This also housed the very nicely done comic book scene which changed up the visuals for a bit and looked very reminiscent of the game XIII for the PlayStation 2. There was clearly some real talent attached to this game in terms of design work and it really shines through as you go through the house. The attention to detail is great and you even see some really nice smaller details like dust spots in the air in the basement when your Edith. There are some gripes with the appearance though. Some areas are unnecessarily dark to me. I struggled for a second on more than one occasion to see where it was I was meant to be going and that really took me out of it at the time as having to stop to up the gamma for a moment to then stop and put it back because the remainder of that area was too bright was a real annoyance. Aside from the lighting though as stated the games visuals are a pleasure to look at.
Again, like the visuals something that has to be done well in a game like this as the narrative is the core of this game and if the lines are delivered poorly you just won’t invest in the story that is trying to be told to you so unsurprisingly the voice acting is done very well here. For the majority of the game you will be listening to the voice of Edith as she journeys through the house but as you experience the memories of the various members of the family you will get a chance at some new voices to come across (as stated the Barbara narrator is my favourite) they come in a variety of ages and emotional states. Sam’s dialogue despite being rather monotone I felt was soothing and I’m not sure if that’s the way that it was meant to be but it was for me.
Overall I have to admit I enjoyed this game a lot more than I thought that I would. I was a little depressed at the end though as the themes were explored quite well and I did feel like they had moved me a little. But there were some weird moments too. I was not expecting to see what childbirth looks like from a baby’s perspective at the end of the game (little bit weird guys and not really needed). The frame rate was also a little choppy sometimes but the quality of the game left me feeling like I was enjoying it enough to power through that. i don’t really do numerical scores because it’s hard to put a value like that to a game but I do recommend this one. For a short afternoons play its more than worth the £14.99 that I paid for it.
On one final note though. Why is the game and soundtrack only 4% off? Firstly that’s an oddly specific discount and secondly it’s not really enough to make me want to pay for it in that bundle. Just saying.