The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 23rd

RPS-calendar-23th

There’s a peep hole in door number 23. Look through it, what do you see?

It’s What Remains Of Edith Finch!

Graham: You are returning home to a house from which you fled. You’re in search of answers: what’s the truth behind the family curse, which seemingly causes each member of your family to die, often young, in unfortunate, heart-wrenching and occasionally funny ways? You’re the last Finch walking and you need to know. The answers will be found via the house’s ornately modeled bedrooms, each of which prompts a vignette depicting the deceased’s final moments.

The whole game is exquisite. The house is beautifully constructed, a masterclass of level design. It’s simply wonderful to look at. There is only a single available path through its rooms, yet your discoveries feel your own. Every element is designed to communicate character. Storytelling by way of household objects and scribbled notes is not new, but What Remains’ is built as carefully as a Rube Goldberg device. The clutter takes on meaning as you tumble through it.

Yet the vignettes take it beyond simply being Gone Homier. These are poetic and lyrical because the player is active within them, taking control of movement in a different way each time. Some are better than others, but all of them reflect and reshape the story you’re gleaning from the environment.

The result is a game that deals with death with a lightness influenced by the works of Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Bryan Fuller, but which has played on my mind every day in the month since I played it. In part that’s because I’m still trying to work out exactly how much I like it. I suspect I admire it more than I love it. One of its stories reduced me to a bawling mess, but it was an easy target. Overall it shifts tones enough that I’m not entirely sure what, if anything, it was trying to say. I think its framing narrative is its weakest story, I didn’t buy the ending, and ultimately I feel like it’s not more than the sum of its parts… But when the parts hit the highs of What Remains?

Let’s try this: What Remains is not my favourite story in videogames, but it is my favourite storytelling… And heck, it’s one of my favourite stories, too. Damnit.

Let’s try this instead: What Remains Of Edith Finch makes me excited for the future of the entire medium of videogames.

Brendan: There’s a scene in Edith’s familial myth-history that will resonate with lovers of videogames. It’ll spark thoughts for anyone who has sought escape from a menial job in this dumb non-reality we all adore for reasons none of us can remember, probably the flashing lights. I won’t spoil any more because this is a game that’s best enjoyed as fresh as a flapping fish.

Alec: All hail the short game – the game that does it all it sets out to do in just a couple of hours, then gets out of your way. Edith Finch goes the extra mile by packing in an almost obscene amount of environmental storytelling alongside its 150-odd minutes of wry tragedy and comedy, not to mention the wild abandon with which in introduces new ideas, control schemes and fever dreams every time it focuses on a new character. It’s a game that lurks in the head for some time afterwards, and it’s a game that is almost more satisfying on a second play, when you already know the tales of the wonderful, terrible, tragic, hilarious ways the various members of the Finch family died, and can now appreciate how all the little details predict and reference those stories.

And hell, the visual invention here, so much of which could sadly not be talked out for fear of spoiling the whole shebang, is off the charts. This is not some maudlin Gone Home knock-off: it’s a feast of ideas, black humour and celebration of the power of stories.

Adam: I’ve written so much about it already, in our best PC games feature and in my review. Not as many words as I’ve written about games that I think are far less exciting or important, but enough to get my thoughts and feelings across. Graham says it makes him excited for the future of the entire medium of videogames and I’d agree with that. I’m more a systems and mechanics person than a narrative-lover when it comes to games, but Edith Finch made me a believer in this particular style of interactive narrative.

Perhaps I feel about it how everyone else felt about Gone Home, Firewatch, Dear Esther or The Stanley Parable. I like all of those games to varying degrees, but Edith Finch is the one that made me go, “OK, we’ve got this”. And when I say ‘we’, I mean games as a medium, and when I say ‘this’, I mean everything.

Graham: I’m looping back in here after everyone else to point you towards some of our other reporting about Edith Finch from the past year. Specifically, if you’ve finished it, it’s worth reading Alex’s interview with the developers about the use of text in the game and Pip’s interview with them about the art design of the section Brendan’s referencing above. The latter also contains some great concept art and in-development images. As I’ve already said at length, the game is exquisite, and personally I found it fascinating to learn about how it was made after I was finished playing.

(Also we named it one of the best PC games ever.)

Head back to the calendar to open the door to another of 2017’s best games.

28 Comments

  1. kwyjibo says:

    Can’t wait to read the kind words you have to say about Lawbreakers tomorrow. Congrats CliffyB, Lawbreakers GOTY, an essential game.

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    phuzz says:

    I’m one of those people who love games like Firewatch and Tacoma, but Edith Finch tries to do even more with it’s setting and basically nails it.
    If you don’t normally like First Person Strollers, this might convince you, and if you do like them then this is one of the best.

    • draglikepull says:

      Conversely, I’m not normally one for wander games, but while I quite enjoyed Firewatch, What Remains Of Edith Finch landed with a thud for me. I suspect the biggest difference is the quality of writing, since I just found the writing in Firewatch to be far better. Edith Finch felt to me like a series of disconnected tech demos, while Firewatch told a coherent narrative with relatable characters.

      • magnificent octopus says:

        I enjoyed Edith Finch more than Firewatch and less than Tacoma, I think, although they are all good games with good points. (Firewatch, for instance, had some of the best walking I’ve ever seen in a game). I didn’t like the ending of Edith Finch, but up until the last couple of minutes, I was all in on the story.

        I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending to Tacoma. I’ve been trying to convince my friends to play it so I can have a really good conversation about it with someone.

  3. parsley says:

    The story Brandon references is ultimately why this game is on my Best Games list. The early stories were good, and as the game continued, they just got stronger and stronger.

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    subdog says:

    Peep hole clue had me certain this would be The Sexy Brutale.

  5. kwyjibo says:

    The HTML title tag says the year is 2018.

  6. Nolenthar says:

    Is it me or it smells of Oranges suddenly?

    And did I read that right, is this game completed in less than 3 hours ? With only one path possible ?

    • Eddy9000 says:

      *sigh* Why’d you have to go and be ‘that guy’?

      • Nolenthar says:

        That truly was a genuine question though, a game’s duration is important to me, as well as its replayability

        • Dogahn says:

          If time invested and replayability are your criteria; Probably not your game.

          • Seyda Neen says:

            I have a problem with the notion that “replayability” is directly tied to the ability to do things different the second time around. If the game is quality it should be replayable no matter what, because it’s fun or compelling. Do those who hold this view also not re-watch great movies or re-read great books? Those don’t change in the slightest and yet the value of those repeated experiences is rarely questioned. Why are games different?

          • malkav11 says:

            I find there are a lot of people who don’t revisit media they’ve already experienced, yes.

            I personally am way less inclined to similarly revisit games because they’re typically much more prolonged undertakings and I have too many others to get to. But on the other hand, I also have no intention of replaying games with “high replayability”, for much the same reason. Short but with dramatically different experiences on each replay, maybe a couple times. Otherwise…unless the “replay” is clearly part of the process of actually finishing the game (e.g. Nier and sequel), nah.

          • Nolenthar says:

            Thanks, less than 3 hours sounds awfully short so indeed, not going to go into it unless it’s on sale for less then 5 quids.

            To answer some of you on replayability, I tend to not revisit any media unless enough time has passed since I last visited, because then the story will feel “new” again. If I know the story, I won’t revisit.

  7. April March says:

    What a coincidence, I literally just bought it. Literally literally. I completed the GOG purchase, then came here.

  8. abobo says:

    Looks like it’s CrossCells for the win!

    • mim says:

      … and Cuphead.
      And maybe Deadcells? Rain World? Caveblazers? Etc?
      But, man. This year’s list is kind of … weird, i think.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Observer? Something VR I’ve not paid attention to? I’m stumped, this and Divinity were the likeliest I thought

    • Godwhacker says:

      Obviously it’s PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds: Test Server

  9. caff says:

    Superb game, it was my GOTY by some margin.

  10. Zaraf says:

    *sigh* I wished Darkwood would be on the list

    • Crusoe says:

      I suspect no one aboard the good ship RPS played it enough to appreciate it, because as you say, it absolutely should be on this list.

  11. Turkey says:

    Omg. It’s Dream Daddy…

  12. Thirith says:

    I was surprised to find that I didn’t particularly like Edith Finch, even though in most of the reviews I read it sounded like exactly my thing. I like several of the individual sequences as vignettes, but for me it was decidedly less than the sum of its parts, and the premise of the family cursed to die started to feel like an affectation, telling me little about the family, its individual members or death beyond, “They had one personality trait and they died in a weird way.” Lewis’ story was one of the more effective ones in that respect, because here I felt that the sequence itself hinted at a richer, more complex character than the other sequences managed.

    • Monggerel says:

      Basically my impression of the thing. I liked a lot of the environmental design especially, but didn’t much care for the story, or the characters. Interestingly enough, the one part that left me feeling cold was Lewis’ segment – it seemed to me a reflection on the kind of escapism What Remains… ‘s players would be familiar with, as Brendan pointed out in the article, except that it felt… toothless. It was clearly a kind of power fantasy – but to me the escapism that games provide is not narrative, but rather the visceral joy of, well, sport. This is probably reflected in my overall preference toward challenging and/or multiplayer games, rather than narrative-centric games, with a select few exceptions.

      So! I’m totally not the person who should be judging this game. Whatever. Bloodborne for GOTY, that’s for sure.

    • Canadave says:

      That’s kind of the thing, though: the curse was an affectation. All of the stories are curated by Edie Finch, and she’s constantly trying to play up and exploit the family legend. So I think part of the reason why Lewis seems like a more complete character is down to the fact that he was the last Finch to die before Edie herself did, and she didn’t have enough time build up what happened to him into something fantastic.

      • Thirith says:

        I like that explanation, Canadave, though I’m not sure it would make the game’s narrative work all that much better for me; it explains why the family members struck me as relatively flat in their quirkiness, but it also left Edie flat. Few of the sequences gave me much of a feel for the character in question, but they didn’t give me a better idea of who Edie was. I’d have to replay it with your explanation in mind, though.