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Dear Esther Review

publisher: thechineseroom
developer: thechineseroom
genre: Adventure

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."

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.

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.


7.7   Good

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.


8 post(s)
Reader Comments
Ftmch Feb 29 2012, 08:05 am EST
I liked it, the atmosphere and environments were amazing, and I was a bit touched by it aswell. Gameplay was nonexistant though, would be nice with at least some puzzles or such.
  Un Om Bun: I would have loved to be able to look at things and h…
f0u666 Feb 29 2012, 09:01 am EST
Try to play this in a language you dont know or without sound hahaha
Vodoo Feb 29 2012, 11:40 am EST
i adore this "thing".
it's hard to call it a game...i call it my portable vacation system albeit limited to a scotish island.

i agree, the narrator should have spat out commentaries about philosophy or things pertaining to the island, building upon the world already created in front of you instead of telling a story.
after all, by playing the game you are already taking part in a story, why would you clutter it with another one which is also inconsistent to say the least.

to get going, a big pair of headphones, a faint light from the street lamp outside and a nice warm couch is all you need to dive into Dear Esther. (^_^)

from start to finish i was brought to tears because the music, the sounds, the sights were breathtaking, especially the cave segments of the game.

if you expect to have fun with this, you're barking up the wrong tree.
Dear Esther is the first step towards the Star Trek holodeck. it's one of those escapades you make when everything is too loud, too agitated, too much to bare around you.
  Un Om Bun: Heh, loved the holodeck reference. I'm in the process…
RacerX Feb 29 2012, 12:28 pm EST
Nice review Un! I mean, you did a nice job covering the things important to this game. I'm actually interested in playing it now.
  Un Om Bun: I thought I'd fit it in a one pager because I couldn'…
touretul Feb 29 2012, 12:35 pm EST
I played twice. in the night, and next day, or the same day, first thing in the morning. I loved it, especilly the confusing story. it has something of a Lynch movie, or A Tale of Two Sister after which you can think of it endlessly. I would like to talk with someone about it. I believe I missed who Paul is, and I think that once he calls Esther, Donnelly, Esther Donnelly, like she had been in some family relation with the cartographer of the island.
Also, it's amazing what can be done with the source engine. It's like a STALKER with a dated sky and water and no shadows. Great textures though. And vegetation.
  Un Om Bun: Check out the Steam forums, there are a few interesti…
im_stardust Feb 29 2012, 02:38 pm EST
Your review just ruined it for me. You ruined it for me. You ruined ME!

It's never gonna be the same again.
  Morkrul: WELL DONE UN!! this made my evening (the fact that yo…
Neil Mar 01 2012, 04:11 am EST
I finished it in about 72mins! That came as a shock as I was expecting a longer gameplay time. I understand replays offer variety in what you see/hear, but it's so subtle there's little incentive to do this (for me)...
mallet Mar 01 2012, 01:49 pm EST
Un Om Bun is a reviewer for AT now? Good for you, son. Always appreciated your comments in here. :)

Btw, nice review.


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