Oh, the walking simulator genre, such a divisive niche in the vast world of video game playstyles. Some people laud those titles as proof that videogames, as a medium, can and should be considered as a form of art. Some others don’t even consider walking sims as video games at all, given how little they have of actual gameplay and any sort of player input and interactivity.
I, for one, am a pretty divided person when it comes to games of this genre. There are some games I love, as they actually intereact with the player on a gameplay sort of way (The Stanley Parable), or they really know how to mess up with a player’s head (P.T., we’ll never forget you!). There are also some walking sims I truly dislike due to the fact there’s absolutely no gameplay whatsoever, you just walk (usually at a snail’s pace) from A to B to C to D to Sigma in order to receive more exposition and move on, merely as a spectator (like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, you can read my beloved thoughts about it here).
The Playstation 4 has just received a new game in the walking simulator genre, called What Remains of Edith Finch. How is it then? Here’s the review.
So, first of all, the most important question of the all: is Edith Finch better than Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture? YES. It does have more charm and heart, and it is much less arrogant and pretentious than the aforementioned title.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all fine and dandy here.
The game revolves around you walking through the Finch manor, a place with more nonsensical secret passages than your average Resident Evil mansion, and looking for “memories” of your older relatives, who have all died prior to the game’s start (that’s not actually a spoiler, don’t worry). Those memories act as the game’s “levels”, in a certain way. Everything is presented in a very well-detailed way, with the house and its rooms being crafted beautifully with great visuals, and with voice acting that, for the most part, works quite well. Surely, there are some moments with bad voice acting and inconsistent framerates and animations, but for the most part the visuals and sound design are pretty good.
The problems actually lie somewhere, basically in everything What Remains of Edith Finch has to offer as an actual video game.
Unlike some other walking sims, What Remains of Edith Finch does have a tiny little bit of gameplay. I give props to two of the game’s memories, one which reminded me a lot of the classic cel-shaded FPS XIII, and another one which brilliantly managed me to control two separate characters and situations with each analog stick to a point I was nearly playing it in an auto-pilot mode, with a great monologue about losing sense of reality was being played on the background. Sadly, both “levels” lasted not longer than 10 minutes, which deeply infuriated me.
The rest of the game, on the other hand, falls deeply into walking simulator clichées. All of the other memories feature very little gameplay or fun factor whatsoever, some of them not even involving actual gameplay of any kind, forcing you to just watch, like an avantgarde voyeur section. There was a segment consisted solely on swinging on a playground. You read it right.
Your character also moves at a snail’s pace throughout the house (thankfully, you just need to move around an estate, not an entire English village), that didn’t help much as well.
Another problem I had with the game was its story’s tonality, which missed the target at a few times. We are handling a game revolved around the deaths of your relatives, but some of the memories were actually quite cheesy and, unintentionally, funny, something which definitely I wasn’t expecting to witness in a game like this. It also didn’t help that I figured the plot twist out not more than 30 minutes into the game.
If I had to point out the worst offender, however, it would be the game’s duration. I timed my entire first playthrough of What Remains of Edith Finch, and it ended up in 149 minutes. Less than two and a half hours. Bear in mind that, while I was playing the game, I took a break to go to the bathroom, I answered a phone call, and went to my kitchen to pick up a can of Coke, and the game still took less than two and a half hours. Without said breaks, I could have easily beaten the game in two hours, maybe less. All that for a bit less than 20 dollars, an insanely expensive pricetag for what the game has to offer.
In the end, it’s quite hard for me to actually recommend What Remains of Edith Finch to anyone. While it was much better than some other walking simulators I have played, and while it did have a few interesting ideas, the game simply isn’t fun or interactive enough, extremely short, without any sort of replayability included, and above all, too expensive for what it offers.
It is indeed beautiful and innovative in a storytelling kind of way, but in the end I felt just like a spectator for all but two of the game’s “levels”, with some of them not even managing to hit the right tone or actually telling the story coherently. Games can be, and are art, but you can’t just focus on the art part of a videogame and completely throw the gameplay and fun departments off the window!
In the end, it felt like the video game version of L’Année dernière à Marienbad. See? I know my fair share of avantgarde art.
Also available on: PC