Two years ago, I told you about a bizarre game called What Remains of Edith Finch, in which you morphed from being a young girl to a cat to an owl to a shark, which was kind of awkward, given that you were up a tree. There were clearly some great ideas at work, but it must be said, the demo was janky as hell. Developer Giant Sparrow - maker of the equally strange game Unfinished Swan - has put a lot of work into What Remains in the many months since I last visited the Finch house, and man, has it paid off. Controls have been fixed, visuals have been enhanced, storytelling has been bolstered, and promise has been fulfilled.
To refresh your memory, What Remains of Edith Finch is a collection of vignettes about the beleaguered Finch family, all of whom disappeared, one by one, under strange circumstances. Your character - quite pregnant and sporting an engagement ring on a chain around her neck - is returning home after an absence of many years. It’s always a little weird to return to your childhood home as an adult, but it’s even more strange here: your relatives’ bedrooms are all sealed shut and marked with plaques denoting birth and death dates. You can squint through the peepholes (because your grandma drilled peepholes in the doors, which is a totally normal thing to do), or you can find the secret switch that allows you to enter each room and search for the note or diary describing the events leading to the occupant’s disappearance. And this is where Edith Finch...well, ok, it was already pretty weird, so perhaps it’s more accurate to say that these stories are where the game’s weirdness gains beauty and depth.
The sections portraying your family’s fates are stories both big and small; some will take mere moments to see to completion, while others are more drawn out. How they all fit together with your own story - whatever that may be - can only be known once you’ve hit every branch on your family tree, thoughtfully sketched out in your notebook for reference. What Remains of Edith Finch is a member of that much maligned genre, the "walking simulator," and it’s true that you don’t do much more than look around and interact with select items in your environment, like a light switch or a swing. But that environment is so rich with detail that to do anything else within those walls would be a waste. The Finch house isn’t just a framework for creepy stories, it’s a place that feels lived in by actual people. Strange people, admittedly, who do things like put padlocks on books, but people who nonetheless will likely remind you of members of your own family. I mean, really, who among us hasn't tried to trick their brother into doing loop-de-loops on the swing in the quiet hope he might get in trouble for it?
I’ve only gotten to play through two of What Remains of Edith Finch’s stories - the updated version of Molly’s barn swallow/owl/shark tale (which still ends with the creepiest line I’ve ever heard in a game), and the brief story of Calvin and his swing - but they both make me want to prowl through the rest of that enormous house and discover the secrets resting in every last room. This isn’t a horror game meant to test your mettle or a nostalgic roam designed to pull at your heart strings, it’s a reminder that games can tell stories in ways no other medium can. Now that the janky controls and barebones graphics have been removed, what remains of Edith Finch is absolute brilliance.