DEATH and taxes. They’re the two things said to be the only two certainties in life, but while a variety of big companies seem to have figured out how to largely avoid the latter, the Finch family at the heart of this week’s game have been spectacularly unlucky at avoiding the former.
I refer to Death, which looms large at the heart of What remains of Edith Finch (PC, PS4, Cert 16; €20) as the single most enduring force or character in the game – never seen, but always close by.
As a gutsy teen, you return to the sprawling, hurriedly abandoned Finch home in Washington to try to discover why you and your mum fled from it, years ago.
Despite its imposing silhouette, the Finch house is just a home – it’s full of piles of books, toys, photos of children, balls of wool and unfinished knitting, and family portraits of the late Finches painted by the eponymous matriarch, Edith.
It’s also full of lots of locked rooms, each of which once belonged to a Finch before their respective death saw their room sealed, creating snapshots of their lives.
However, what’s a locked door to an inquisitive teen? A challenge, and one that’s easily overcome once you start finding one of the many secret passages, hidden keys and other ways to move about the dusty house.
As you explore, you learn all about the Finches down the years – many of whom had an unfortunate habit of dying young, often as children or teens – filling out the Finch family tree with a half-forgotten name here, a legendary figure there, with Death never far away.
More a collection of short stories than a “game-game”, you’re dropped into brief moments in time from the lives of the people you note, taking the briefest of looks at the extended Finch family before moving on to the next room, the next name on the list, the next half-recalled life.
As a slow-paced and slow-burning ‘walk-em-up’ (where a story or plot gets doled out without much player effort), it’s not a game for everyone – and with just one not-so-big house to explore, even the most slothlike of gamers will be able to drift through it in just a few hours, at the most.
However, despite its brevity, critics have been quick to laud the game, admiring its thoughtful take on families, life and death.
Ultimately, while Death is the true constant in this game, Life is ever-present, too, as the hopes, thoughts, voices and writings of Finches from across a century drift out, flickering briefly into life again to create an impression of a diverse group of people who just share the same background.
A family, in other words, like yours, or like mine.
Ultimately, as a game, Edith will leave many cold. However, as a storytelling experience, and for some fresh food for thought, there’s a lot to savour here.