Also On: PC
Publisher: Annapurna Pictures
Developer: Giant Sparrow
2017 isn’t even half done yet, but I’m willing to bet that when I go to pick my game of the year several months from now, What Remains of Edith Finch is probably going sit firmly at the #1 position.
This shouldn’t be a huge surprise. After all, two years ago, my favourite game of the year was Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. Last year, it was Gone Home. In other words, I have a thing for so-called “walking simulators.” I love when a game has a relatively short, emotionally-driven story to tell, and What Remains of Edith Finch unquestionably has one of those.
However, there’s also a crucial difference between What Remains of Edith Finch and those two games: where they had stories that ultimately resolved themselves in hopeful ways, this game most assuredly does not. Without giving too much away — and consider this a big, flashing spoiler alert, in a review that will inevitably have to contain a few — Edith Finch’s story contains gut punch after gut punch, before ultimately ending things off with a twist that’s absolutely devastating.
In fact, that’s precisely what sets What Remains of Edith Finch apart from those other two games. Where they tip-toed up to the edge of having sad endings before ultimately having second thoughts, What Remains of Edith Finch has no such second thoughts. It builds to a point where a sad ending is the only one that makes sense, and rather than shying away from it, the game embraces that outcome.
Just to be clear, this isn’t to disparage either Gone Home or Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. I’m the sort of person who loves narratives with happy endings, no matter how unearned they may be, so I didn’t mind if they pulled back from the abyss at the very last second. But at the same time, I think that What Remains of Edith Finch is a reminder that a story can feel narratively satisfying while also being heartbreakingly sad.
Of course, given that What Remains of Edith Finch is all about a teenage girl uncovering the terrible fates that have befallen every one of her relatives, it’s hard to imagine how this game could’ve gone any other way. There’s no way to relate stories of suicide, or an uncle being hit by a train, or a baby drowning in a bathtub in any kind of positive fashion. It’s going to be sad subject matter, no matter how you spin it.
And yet, even as the stories are devastating, each of them are, in their own ways, beautifully told. No one gets a simple recounting of their life and eventual death. Rather, you get things like a man’s descent into depression being told as a contrast between the mundanity of his everyday life and the rich fantasy world he was building in his head. Similarly, one boy’s sudden disappearance is conveyed through a flipbook. Obviously, none of this minimizes the fact that every character meets a depressing end, but it at least makes them easier to take from the player’s perspective — and, taken together, makes it easier to play through the game without sinking into a deep depression of your own.
But I’m not going to lie: What Remains of Edith Finch is still going to hit you like a tonne of bricks — or, more accurately, like tonne after tonne of bricks, with each tale bringing a new load. No amount of engaging storytelling or beautiful graphics is going to change that.
It’s still worth it, though. It may depress you, and it may leave you with tears in your eyes afterwards, but when a game tells a story as well as What Remains of Edith Finch does here, it deserves not just to be played, but to be remembered and discussed and considered long after you’ve set down the controller.