What Remains of Edith Finch is an evocative narrative experience with an air of mystery, a beautiful presentation and silky-smooth performance - provided you're playing on the PC. PlayStation 4 suffers by comparison, with immersion-breaking stutter, intrusive pop-in, bad frame-pacing and clear performance problems. Playing on Pro helps considerably, but issues remain.
The game itself is the second release from Giant Sparrow - the company responsible for The Unfinished Swan, released back in 2012. Edith Finch was first announced at the PlayStation Experience back in 2014 with Sony Santa Monica as its publisher but since then, the game has changed hands and is now published by Annapurna Interactive - the new games division of the film production company, Annapurna Pictures.
The pairing of developer and publisher makes a lot of sense. This is an interactive story in the style of Gone Home and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter but still manages to upend expectations. We'll still clear of spoilers here, but suffice to say that this is a cinematic experience, so presentation is critical in grabbing the attention of players.
To start with, the game runs at 1080p on both the PlayStation 4 and the PS4 Pro but thanks to Unreal's aggressive temporal anti-aliasing, it appears very clean on both. On PC, we've run across complaints suggesting that the game is limited to just 1080p but that's not true in our experience. We had no problems reaching higher resolutions on our test machine. The game even includes a resolution scaling option for those that want to maintain native res while leaving the scaling up to the game. That said, with the heavy use of chromatic aberration and soft anti-aliasing it can give the impression of running at a lower resolution even when pixel counts, with AA at low, suggest it's native.
Comparing the two visually, there's little to break them apart aside from the usual refinements on the PC side. For example, shadows are of the softer, more diffused variety which is more natural in this title's environments, while PS4 features sharper, harder shadows. Outdoors environments typically benefit most from the PC's higher quality settings, but indoors, there's very little to tell the two versions apart. But that's really not the issue - it's console performance that is the concern here.
We kicked off running the game on PlayStation 4 Pro, and wondered whether there was actually any support for the more powerful hardware at all: resolution remains at 1080p and we're looking at a console-standard 30fps frame-rate - marred somewhat by streaming issues as you traverse the environment, resulting in some intrusive stutter and slowdown. But the real issue is bad frame-pacing. In a game where you are constantly moving and rotating the camera in a slow manner, it feels especially bad. The game is very jittery on the PS4 Pro as a result - at least during these bouts of bad frame-pacing.
If not for this issue, the game would be turning in a very stable 30fps. As such, it certainly seems like something that a patch could address in the future. At least we hope so. The streaming stutters aren't great either but much easier to overlook. So far, we're looking at par for the course for a base PS4 title, which made us wonder if Edith Finch was actually Pro-enabled at all.
However, running the game on base PS4 hardware sees an often dramatic loss of performance by comparison, with frame-rate averaging 25fps in open areas. In some spots, it drops still further. This is frustrating as the vast majority of potential players will be running on the standard PS4, meaning they're getting by far the worst experience out of the three options available. When you combine a low average frame-rate with bad frame-pacing and streaming stutters, the result just isn't good enough.
Implementing proper frame-pacing would be a tremendous help. The PS4 Pro version could then deliver a steady 30fps while the standard PS4 would at least feel more stable in situations when it's not dropping below 30 - though those outdoor areas really do need some optimisation work.The worst PS4 game we've ever played Grrrrr.
If you have the option though, the PC version is where it's at, with current mainstream GPU hardware able to run this title very smoothly at full-fat 60fps. It's here where the game truly shines as it really is quite beautiful. The use of subtle indirect lighting and a beautiful colour palette really helps create a world that you want to explore. As the game jumps between the different scenarios and different characters, the look and tone change accordingly. There's just a ton of variety in here and the game makes great use of its technology.
Of course, there is the question of whether performance issues really matter in a slow-paced, narrative adventure. Certainly, hair-trigger reflexes aren't required to enjoy this game, but at the same time, experiences like this thrive on immersion and after playing this title back-to-back on all three versions, the PC version simply offers an experience that is head-and-shoulders above the others. Implementing correct frame-pacing would help both PlayStation 4 versions - Pro especially - but we really hope that Giant Sparrow can go the extra mile to get performance up to the required standard on base level PS4 hardware.