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Dear Esther Review
|ESRB rating: RP
release date: Feb 14, 12
|» All About Dear Esther on ActionTrip|
Dear reader, in this game you'll walk across an entire island.
-- THE END --
Okay, there's more to it, but still, very little can be said about Dear Esther without spoiling the experience. I'll just quote the game's tagline: "A deserted island... a lost man... memories of a fatal crash... a book written by a dying explorer."
The caves look quite remarkable.
Gonna stop by the corner drugstore... trouble is, no corners.
Welcome to the latest in experimental indie gaming - a non-violent first-person stroller featuring near photo-realistic graphics and exquisite music that would compliment even documentaries like Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Encounters at the End of the World. It's a two-hour trip that has you walking down a predetermined path, while an unnamed narrator recites fragments from letters addressed to a woman named Esther. Esther? Who the fuck is Esther?
You'll figure that out fast, but you'll soon be wondering who Jakobson and Donnelly are and what their role is. Assuming the narration will manage to pique your interest enough to pay close attention, you'll get the general idea or perhaps you won't. It's all intentionally ambiguous, like a poem, and in my humble opinion, also slightly pretentious. Pretty soon I started to lose interest in the story and wished instead that I could enjoy the landscape without the voice in my head bothering me with its problems.
Eventually, I read a good part of the game's script online and I liked it more than in-game. And not because there's something wrong with the narrator (quite the contrary, he's very convincing), but because the island itself left a considerably stronger impression on me. Every turn I took, I stopped to smell the roses and eventually I started filling the place with events from my own memories. Frankly, I enjoyed the solitude; there was absolutely nothing boring about it. The island became my island and the narrator became an unwelcome guest.
This feels like a dream.
Who the fuck put these candles here? What happens when the tide comes along?
The game failed to evoke the feelings it intended, partly because the narration was too sparse, which made the already vague plot difficult to follow and because I couldn't relate to almost any of the things the narrator was talking about. Every time he would finish his piece, my mind wandered off to different things and by the game's fourth and final area, I was thinking about Dear Esther's influence on future adventure games. What if someone created an equally real place, populated it with entirely plausible characters and put the player in the shoes of a normal guy who had to solve a simple, ordinary mystery? No guns, no supernatural creatures, only 100% realism. Done right, it would be a new and highly immersive experience (Oh yeaaah, that'll sell. Activison and EA are probably on it as we speak! - Ed. Vader)
In spite of a lukewarm reception from critics, Dear Esther was a financial success (In your face Bobby Kotick! - Ed. Vader) and that should be proof enough that gamers are interested in exploring non-threatening virtual worlds as well. Worlds where they can experience mature stories and feel a broader range of emotions than what they feel in typical 'kill or be killed' games. The simple truth is that Dear Esther is only a moderately successful experiment, which might leave the player disappointed. Still, we all know how important experimenting is to all forms of art. Games are that way too. However, play this just for yourself and try to see where things might go from here. The possibilities are endless and almost completely unexplored.
Beautiful visuals, equally accomplished soundtrack, professional writing and good narration, the game run smoothly with maximum settings even on mid-range PCs;
A bit too much ambiguity and wallowing in self-pity, no interactivity whatsoever, can be finished in under two hours.
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