The Backlog: ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ redefines what a game can be

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I’ve been playing video games since I was a kid; beginning with a Playstation 2 and later playing on an Xbox 360, I eventually settled with the versatility of PC gaming. Over the many years that I’ve had a Steam account I’ve accrued many games from sales and new releases, but none have served to build up my library more than Humble Bundle. It’s a subscription service that delivers a set number of games for subscribers to choose from each month for a fixed price. Subscribers also get extra discounts on Humble Bundle’s online as well as a treasure trove of DRM-free games that the site offers. The best part about it? A portion of all proceeds go to charity. If this seems like your kind of thing, sign up with my referral link here.  

Regardless, it should be obvious that I’ve never had the chance to play every single game in my Steam library, so that’s where this column comes in. Welcome to “The Backlog,” a weekly column where I’ll randomly select and play a game I haven’t played (or revisit an old one if it’s that good) and review it, talk about it or otherwise convince you to check it out or avoid it. Most of these will be indie titles or from smaller developers, so don’t expect me to review mainstream titles by massive companies. 

Without further ado, let’s get to it. 

There are some things in life you wish you could experience again for the first time, and “What Remains of Edith Finch” is one of them. I bought this game on sale this past summer when I had an itch for a story-rich indie game. The premise is what hooked me: The game follows Edith Finch, the last living member of the Finch family, as she visits her old house in Washington state to learn about her family’s history and make sense of their mysterious deaths through a series of vignettes. 

Aside from its mysterious premise, what further intrigued me was that the game won numerous awards. Released in 2017, it won Best Game at the 14th British Academy Games Awards. Amongst many others, it won Best Narrative at the 2018 Game Developers Choice Awards and The Game Awards 2017.  

I knew I had to try it, and to say it’s a good game is an understatement. After finishing the game in two and a half hours, I knew it was an experience I couldn’t easily forget. 

The gameplay is simple: The player controls Edith as she walks onto her family’s property and explores the house. All the while, Edith narrates what the player is experiencing with subtitles that interact with and take up space in the environment in front of the player. Sometimes subtitles will appear ahead of you, and as you walk through them, they spill onto the ground. Other times, the words will move and lead you to your next objective. The use of these dynamic subtitles makes the narration in “What Remains of Edith Finch” actually feel alive and keeps your attention focused on the story. 

Moving on, this game has so much attention to detail through phenomenal worldbuilding and atmosphere. Upon entering the kitchen the players see piles of dirty dishes, old boxes of Chinese takeout left on the counter and an invite to a memorial service for a family member. As you explore the house, you’ll climb through crawl spaces littered with crayon graffiti and enter the rooms of the Finches. Each bedroom is unique, showcasing each Finch’s personality and hobbies through the decor and color. 

Each bedroom holds its own, unique vignette that details how that specific Finch died. What’s amazing is that each vignette is designed in its own style, like a whole new story, accentuating the character’s personality and life. For example, Edith’s great grandmother, Barbara, was a washed up childhood star who died at 16. Her bedroom is decorated in playbills, old movie props and vinyl records. Barbara’s vignette is told through the style of a comic book and the player is thrust into her shoes as she investigates the eerie happenings in her house on Halloween night. What makes this vignette one of the best in the game for me is that it uses the theme from John Carpenter’s “Halloween” to build suspense. Since every vignette is its own unique story, I won’t spoil Barbara’s fate. 

Overall, it’s just hauntingly beautiful. You get lost in the world you’re in, and you reel at the fates of characters. Like a changing tide, “What Remains of Edith Finch” pulls you in and out of the vignettes with effortless flow. At times, this game feels less like a game and more like an interactive story, which is what I love about it. You actually feel for the characters and what happened to them. Sam and Lewis’ fates are morbid, Gregory’s vignette is one big “WTF” moment and Milton’s story is one that leaves you confused. The developers at Giant Sparrow have created a masterpiece with “What Remains of Edith Finch.” It’s less of a game, and more of an experience. 

Rating: 5/5 

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