I might be lending out my PS4 next month when the latest annual release of a sports franchise rolls around, so I figured I’d finish off a PS4 game before the console vanishes on me for a few months. What Remains of Edith Finch came out on PS+ a couple of months ago and people are always raving about how good it is and how it’s relatively short, so I decided to give it a go. I went in blind, not knowing anything, since mysteriously no one on Reddit could explain what makes the game good. This is understandably so as any sort of information kind of spoils the story for you. As such, consider yourself warned that this review might be considered spoiler-y. Overall if you like story-based games, just go ahead and play this one, then come back here to read the review if you’d like.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a first-person exploration game. The gameplay is largely focused around the story and advancing the narrative. The story revolves around the Finch family and their so-called “curse” which causes many of the family members to die of unusual causes. You spend the game exploring the now-abandoned Finch family house where five generations of Finches have lived since coming to America. As you explore the house you come across shrines for each deceased Finch family member, and each one takes you into a different scenario narrating their individual stories. Each family member’s story is told in a different manner: there’s one told as if it were a comic book, one told from the point of view of a baby in a bathtub, several are seen through the lens of a child’s imagination, and so on. The presentation of the substories and the main story exploring the house is very clever, with the actual text of the narratives often appearing throughout the environment, guiding you where to go next.
Gameplay is primarily based on exploration and experimentation. In the main story you explore the house and unlock secret passages and crawl through tunnels and climb to the roof and so on. There are no failure states in the gameplay, you simply keep pushing forward. If you get stuck, you walk around until you figure out a way to advance.
The individual substories are the same way, although many of them adjust the control schemes and expect you to experiment accordingly. As an example, in one of the substories you get to fly around as an owl, then later crawl around a cruise ship as some kind of tentacle monster. In another, you’re a baby in a bathtub imagining your toys coming to life. In yet another, you’re an assembly-line worker in a cannery dreaming of a fantasy world, and you must explore your fantasy world and slice off fishheads at the cannery at the same time.
The substories take place in their own little sandboxes, so to speak, and many of them seem like tech demos of cool things a developer would want to try like “Ooh, let’s make the player a shark on land and he has to fall into the ocean!” or “Let’s make a scenario where the player is just flying a kite!” It’s not a proble, and it does create some interesting ways of presenting the narratives.
All of this happens from the first person view, which was a bit problematic at times. Since I’m getting along with age, I’m not as good with first person gaming as I used to be, and playing with this view for an extended period of time can give me some dizziness. Luckily, the game was quite short, and I managed to finish it in two sittings. (Maybe 1.5 hours total)
I usually try to go for achievement completion before posting a review, especially for story-based games like this. But this time I didn’t bother. Most of the achievements are silly things that you can do during the exploration gameplay, like knocking all of the balls off a pool table. Most can be acquired after completing the game the first time, since that unlocks the ability to replay individual substories. But there was one achievement that required looking through every peephole/telescope in the game, and that seemed like I couldn’t do it without replaying everything from the beginning. That didn’t appeal to me because (a) I might get dizzy again; and (b) this is the sort of game where it’s best experienced the first time around, and successive playthroughs won’t be of much value.
…I liked it, though not as much as say, Life is Strange. The exploration of the house is great and the all of the scenes and sandboxes are well set up and very detailed, although the overarching Finch family story is a thinly-veiled framing device to bring together the individual substories. The game is well worth the 1-2 hours to go through it.