Of all the games we tried at PSX 2016, What Remains of Edith Finch was easily one of the most memorable. The creepy vibes given off by the narrative-centric game immediately drew us in, and left us with more questions than answers. Giant Sparrow has done a great job of crafting an engaging narrative, and it seems like everything is shaping up quite nicely.
The demo opens up with our eponymous hero, Edith Finch, returning to her childhood home searching for answers, after having received a key from her late mother. As you approach form the dark woods, the bizarre house looms ominously before you, and something about it just isn't right. There's no rhyme or reason to the architecture, and the spindly structure looks like it could collapse in on itself at just about any moment. Though the house is supposed to be empty, smoke can be seen coming out of the chimney. Edith remarks, "The house was exactly like I remembered it. The way I'd been dreaming about it. Looking back, I think that was the first really bad sign." This sets the tone quite well, and there's a building sense of dread as you explore the house further.
The interior is even weirder than the exterior. Rooms are full of stacks of books and various debris, and most of the rooms are sealed shut, with names and years emblazoned on the doors. See, members of the Finch family have an unfortunate habit of dying at an early age, often in "unbelievable" ways. The rooms that they die in are sealed off, as a sort of shrine to their memory. After sneaking through a hidden passage in a wall, Edith finds herself visiting the shrine of Molly Finch, the first to die in the house.
"The house was exactly like I remembered it. The way I'd been dreaming about it. Looking back, I think that was the first really bad sign."
The room is exactly as the young girl left it, but things get weird once you pick up the diary Molly left behind; you're suddenly transported back to the 1940s, and you see the world through Molly's eyes. Molly can't sleep because she's hungry, but she can't leave her room because the door's shut, and her mother won't let her out. Desperate for something, she begins eating toothpaste, poison berries, and hamster food. We expected a dark scene to follow, and one certainly did, but not in the way we imagined it. Suddenly, Molly is a cat, jumping between trees in pursuit of a tasty sparrow. Then, the scene shifts and she's an owl, diving down to catch some rabbits. It shifts again, and she's a shark chasing seals. Finally, it shifts to a boat, where she's a tentacled snake monster silently eating people. She disappears through a pipe – which opens into Molly's toilet – and the snake monster hides under her bed. Suddenly you're Molly again, writing in your diary in bed. She knows that as soon as she's finished writing, the monster under her bed will eat her, and Molly's tale ends with the line: "We both know that I'll be delicious."
What's most gripping about all this is the plethora of questions the player is left with. How did Molly really die? Why are the rooms sealed off in the fashion that they are? Why do members of the Finch family keep dying? What's the secret of this house that Edith's mother wants her to find? This constant mystery makes you want to keep going to figure out what's really going on, and we're certainly interested in how it all concludes in the final release.
Though the atmosphere and story are top-notch, Giant Sparrow has definitely still got its work cut out regarding the actual mechanics. The game is fine enough as a "walking simulator", but the controls got pretty hokey during Molly's segment when she kept transforming into animals. They weren't bad enough so as to completely ruin the experience, but they were just frustrating enough that the immersion was broken. For example, when you can't catch rabbits because the hit detection is off, you become more focused on your frustration with the controls than the narrative.
All told, we're really looking forward to What Remains of Edith Finch. Though there are some issues with controls, the game has absolutely nailed its storytelling and atmosphere, which are central to the whole experience. It definitely isn't a "game" by the traditional sense of the word, but it manages to provide a memorable and engaging cinematic narrative, and it's delightfully unique.
Are you intrigued by What Remains of Edith Finch? Where do you think this curious tale is going? Turn into a Cthulhu monster in the comments section below.