Death, Spare Me Over: What Remains of Edith Finch Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - February 16, 2018
Death, Spare Me Over: What Remains of Edith Finch Review

I had so many questions once I finished What Remains of Edith Finch, but so as not to get super into the story of it and spoil the game in this first sentence, I’ll stick with this one: if a game scares you, does that inherently make it a horror game? As a “walking-simulator” type game with a self-described “Lovecraftian” story, Edith Finch is the type of game that cranks your anxiety meter up to high gear as you explore the abandoned Finch house with its many sealed doors and hidden passageways, constantly bracing yourself for the inevitable jump-scare or reveal of the big bad monster that never comes. It may take the entire game, but you will eventually realize that, and that the only monster haunting the Finch family is the cruel specter of Death that casts its own grisly shadow over the family’s lineage, callously picking each one off with disturbing frequency and sense of irony.

I ask this question about its categorization as a horror title because it has all the trappings of a horror game, from the house it’s set in, hidden deep within the thick forest of Washington state, abutting the cold and unforgiving sea, to its sense of isolation in a house that is essentially suspended in time the way it is, between its sorrowful history and its uncertain future, all the while frozen in time on the night it was last occupied. Encompassing it all is the sense of dread that leads to that aforementioned anxiety, but that anxiety is really just a product of conditioning from so many true horror games that have preceded it, down to another walking sim in Among The Sleep, which does indeed hold a monster at the end, unlike What Remains of Edith Finch, which will keep you up at night with fears much more real and existential.

Edith Finch is one of those titles where the setting is asked to become as much a character as anybody else that’s featured in the game, especially with the way each member of the Finch family appears only in their particular vignette, or is mentioned or personified via their belongings and how they are presented in other scenes. Our only consistent thread as players is our 17-year-old avatar, Edith, who has inherited the house she abandoned with her remaining family eight years prior. We follow Edith as she roams about the house, frozen in time from that point on, where she learns the details of each of the house’s past inhabitants.

The house itself is peculiar in that it is a perfect balance between the ordinary and the eccentric. On the outside, it’s perfectly normal, its secluded location notwithstanding, except for the precariously tacked on addition that juts out from the corner of the roof like the spire of a gothic castle. On the inside, it could very well be the home of any somewhat well-off family, until you remember that the bedroom doors are all permanently locked and the only way to access half the rooms is by crawling, climbing, and shimmying your way through secret nooks and passageways hidden in plain sight. The attention to detail within the house is a highlight of the game and its sense of character, which is great as most of the game’s footing is based on imbuing the sense that the house and the people in it are real, or at least that they could be, and seeing little knick-knacks on the hall shelves or notes on the refrigerator is a huge part of that sense of realism.

The vignettes that make up the various snippets of gameplay and stories of the characters rarely miss, though the ones that do are more about their length than anything else. The game as a whole is about equal in length to a longer movie, and shorter than some but not all games in the same vein, such as Firewatch and Everybody’s Gone to Rapture, coming in at maybe two and a half hours, three hours at most. This could have been stretched out a bit longer, perhaps, by writing two or three more scenes, since the shorter ones certainly do their jobs from a storytelling perspective, and it’s the short length of the game, not any individualized shortcomings, that put them at the lower end of the power rankings for the game as a whole. When players talk about What Remains of Edith Finch and which scenes really stuck with them, I think just about everybody will bring up Lewis, who builds a massive fantasy world in his mind as a coping mechanism for the tedium of his everyday life at a fish processing plant, not the kid who got too overzealous playing on his swing set. Regardless, though, of how players may perceive of the various stories as being better or worse than others, the variety of storytelling styles employed is quite exciting, particularly Barbara’s death as portrayed by a Tales From The Crypt-style pulp horror comic book.

Somebody asked me the other day what I had been playing lately, and as I had just finished What Remains of Edith Finch, it was the first thing to come to mind. Though, as I prepared to answer, they followed up their initial question with “anything fun?” which forced me to hesitate for a second before replying, because I realized that as good as the game is and how good the story and setting are, it was not fun. Not for a second. Because like most walking sims at this point, it’s not really a game, just an interactive story, a depression simulator, if you will. There are no mechanics to learn, no enemies to defeat, no obstacles to overcome, just the confirmation that while we may not go in as poetic or tragic a way as the majority of the Finch family, we will all die, and the sun will still rise the next morning, as it does on the Finch house. And for that reason, as depressing as it is, as free of challenge or consequence as you may find it, and with as many questions as it leaves you with, What Remains of Edith Finch is captivating, brilliant, and unlike just about anything you’ve ever seen before.

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He is a video game staff writer and dreamed of being a video game as a young boy. Then somebody told him that you can't really do that, so he compromised by doing a bunch of stuff related to that, playing video games, reading about video games, writing about video games, working at a video game store, and all those good nerdy things. Aside from video games, he's also a dork of all trades, with an interest in heavy metal music, wrestling, sports, and Magic the Gathering.
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