Game Review: Dear Esther (PC)
With the fearfully anticipated release of Amnesia: a Machine for Pigs (hopefully) just around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to publish my review of indy developer Thechineseroom’s first production: Dear Esther.
I’ve played games that have made me laugh, dance, shout, shriek, and even feel sick, but it’s not so common for a game to bring me close to tears. Dear Esther did exactly that. An abstract first person narrative set on an island in the Scottish Hebrides, it’s tough to decide whether or not Dear Esther can really be categorized as a game, however, I don’t want to get into that argument right now. Firstly. I just want to tell you how rich and rewarding an experience it provides.
I’d perhaps liken it more to an art installation. Why is it so hard to categorize? Because Dear Esther has very little interactivity in comparison to conventional games. To be precise, you can walk and look, and that’s all you can control. You’ll recieve snippets of story as you progress, powerfully and poetically narrated by your character. The result is a contemplative, lonely, lingering exploration of the island physically, and a journey into deep, deep sadness mentally.
The first thing which struck me about Dear Esther was the beautiful photo-realistic graphics and excellent, emotive music, mainly consisting of piano and strings. Creating the island was clearly a labour of love. There aren’t many games where you can take a really close look at the landscape and say “wow”, but Dear Esther is filled with nuances and allusions which reward you for turning your gaze up, down, and all around, from windswept mountains covered in heather, to labyrinthine caves covered in phosphorescent fungi. Not only is the geography beautifully detailed and lovingly realized, but if you look closely, you can spot creepy ghosts and subtle clues dotted around the island.
It’s hard for me to say too much on the subject without giving away crucial plot points, but I will say that whilst Dear Esther isn’t one for the trigger happy, the thoughtful among you will find plenty to ponder within the shores of the island, and the sights, sounds, and events which transpire during the course of the game may well stay with you for a long time after you’ve shut down your computer. Highly recommended.