What Remains of Edith Finch impressions: Hands-on at PSX 2016

What Remains of Edith Finch has been a long time coming. It began as Game 2 of indie team Giant Sparrow’s three-game contract with Sony: the follow-up to The Unfinished Swan, and a vision of 17-year-old Edith Finch exploring a huge, intricate old house to learn more about her family. Then Gone Home, a game about a college-aged girl exploring her family’s home to learn their secrets, was announced and released.

It was ironic timing, but there’s been ample time for Edith Finch to evolve into an experience markedly different from other so-called walking simulators. In my time with the game at PSX 2016, I found it to be a remarkably intimate game. As Edith reaches out to carefully touch the dusty books, shelves, mirrors, and doorknobs of the mysterious Finch mansion, her spindly fingers animate in an oddly compelling way. The impressive detail of the cross-stitching on her woolen gloves draws you in, as well. The effects are subtle, but together, these visuals had me treating the house as a foreign object with secrets to hide, regarding objects as fragile and powerful.

what remains of edith finch screenshot

Before long, this expectation is fulfilled. Seemingly innocuous diaries, toys, and relics are examined by Edith, and suddenly you’re whisked away into a memory. Exploring the room of young Finch twins, I discover a letter written by a girl about her deceased twin brother. As Edith narrates, a flash of light places me in a different world entirely. Suddenly, my view is that of the brother’s, swinging on a chain swing staring out over a great cliff. The controls have changed; now, the left stick and right stick control his left and right legs, and I tilt back and forth in rhythm to swing higher and higher.

Edith continues to narrate. I learn that, on the day I’m witnessing, the boy dies. As my swinging gets irresponsibly high, then loops around, I suspect why. The boy flies off the swing, but he doesn’t plummet—he soars. Edith’s narration finishes as he takes to the sky, and a flash of light later, I’m back in the dusty Finch house.

The gameplay of Edith Finch is punctuated like this. Each locked room—sealed by Edith’s great-grandmother after each family member’s death–contains the relics and memories of a Finch. As the last-remaining Finch, Edith’s drive is to learn something about her family and herself. As the players, we experience these stories in surreal, imaginative vignettes. Another gameplay section, the first you encounter, has you playing as young Molly Finch, whose imaginations runs wild when she wakes in the night ravenously hungry. She transforms into a cat to chase a bird. Then, as an owl, she hunts rabbits in a field. Finally, as a tentacled monster, she attacks a cargo ship of humans in the night. Entirely in first-person, each section quickly introduces new mechanics and disappear almost as quickly as they came. Flashback or dream, truth or fiction—the answer’s rarely clear and better left to our interpretation.

As Giant Sparrow explained, the central idea is death—each vignette takes you to a surreal interpretation of the moment that family member died. But these anecdotes are playful, challenging you to embrace someone’s else imagination and see death in a new light. Surprising gameplay ideas like hunting rabbits as an owl or swinging your legs with both analog sticks add a bit of levity, but in a weird way, these bits are also familiar. You probably know what it’s like to daydream, even in the middle of a somber situation, and create an exciting story with inspiring action purely in our mind. Edith Finch is a reminder that everyone thinks this way from time to time. It asks how that weirdness is useful—how imagination can help us cope, escape, or reshape our thinking.

It’s heady stuff, but actually playing Edith Finch is remarkably simple and inviting. All you’re doing, after all, is exploring a house. But in the spaces you’ll find, secrets and surprises await. It’s enough to come in with a simple curiosity—for what happened to this family, why these rooms were sealed off. Anyone willing to go deeper, to embrace weird gameplay that has something to say, should find the long wait for Giant Sparrow’s second game worthwhile.