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What Remains of Edith Finch is twisted, touching and charming

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The Unfinished Swan on PlayStation 3 (2012) showed us that Giant Sparrow is a game studio willing to take risks in order to deliver a sense of wonder. What Remains of Edith Finch is shaping up to be a worthy follow-up.

In a playable demo recently shown to media, and planned for E3, the player takes a first-person perspective of a young girl who then morphs into a series of creatures on the hunt. Each creature offers its own unique perspective and story, lasting no more than a few minutes. They include a hawk, a shark and a big surprise. The entire level is handled with panache and humor, leaving the player deeply impressed with the game's originality and narrative verve.

"The universe is stranger than any of us can imagine."

Announced at the PlayStation Experience last year, and filled out with a trailer last month, What Remains of Edith Finch is a playable collection of short stories, all centered around the Finch family and their ramshackle home. Each family member has a tale to tell based on the theme of death. The first tale is the one being shown at E3.

"What we're showing now is the first bedroom of the first Finch family member who died in the house," explains Director Ian Dallas. "In the full game you'll find stories that span three generations of Finches. It's a large, strange family and variety has definitely been one of our goals. We didn't want it to feel like one story; we wanted it to feel like you're exploring the history of this entire family.

"Each story reflects the perspective of the family member it's about so each story has its own feel. The first story we're showing is a 10-year-old girl in 1950 describing a weird dream she had, so the tone is fantastical. A story based around an 18-year-old talking to their psychologist in 1968 is going to have a very different feel. The gameplay is also different in each story since our goal is for everything — from the lighting, to the music, to the gameplay — to be expressive of who this character is and what their story feels like."

Dallas says he does not want to reveal too much about the other rooms and the other members of the family, but he adds that "there's going to be a story about someone flying a kite on a beach and another story that takes place in a bathtub."

Given the tone of the first level and its surprising twists and turns, just about anything seems possible. But the stories are linked by more than just theme and family ties. "Most of our stories use a first-person perspective and most start off with something familiar and then take a surreal turn, like an episode of The Twilight Zone."

edith finch

The game seeks to say something about human nature, while exploring the outer limits of the familiar territory normally covered by video games. At times, it's so odd, the temptation is to laugh out loud.

"It's not an intentionally funny game," says Dallas. "I'd say it's more of an intentionally strange game. We're trying to balance moments where you get a sense for the sublime horror of nature along with smaller, intimate moments with the family members telling their stories. And I think if you get close enough to anyone, and they're an interesting human being, and especially if you're seeing the entire world through their eyes like you do in these stories, there's going to be some really bizarre, funny things that come out of that.

"It's been an interesting challenge trying to balance those elements. My perspective is that the universe is stranger than any of us can imagine. It's scary but it's not just scary. It's also surprising and confusing and wondrous. Hopefully some of that is going to come through for people in our game."

What Remains of Edith Finch will be released on PlayStation 4 in 2016.