There is always either much to say or little to say about a game such as Dear Esther. Dear Esther sprouted as a mod from the source engine back in 2008 to be released free and available for pc players. It was afterwards remade to be released commercially in 2012 due to its immense success within a reasonable big group of supporters. It is easy to consider Dear Esther as not being a game, simply because it presents few to no gameplay elements whatsoever. Yet, Dear Esther is special in the experience it delivers; it’s a beautiful but melancholic journey telling a vague yet brilliant story. What makes this interesting is that in the aftermath players are left to interpret and picture for themselves what the narrator is trying to tell them.
In Dear Esther you play as a protagonist slowly making your way across a deserted island through fields, caves and beaches. Walking every 30 meters or so you come across points which trigger a narrative voice sequence, talking vaguely about events and things that somehow concern the protagonist’s life. These sequences sometimes tie to the place you visit on the island but mostly are triggered randomly, meaning that it is possible to replay the game while living a complete different experience. Apart from discovering the island and listening to the narrative sequences there is no more to Dear Esther. For many this is disappointing, because as a player you have quite a passive role only controlling the protagonist. But let’s be honest, aren’t we all a little auto-satisfied with all the action and explosiveness in video games? It is thus important to recognize that Dear Esther only attempts to introduce a new medium of exploration through the use of story-telling and discovery and no more. Hence having this in mind, the experience I lived in Dear Esther was truly unique.
The gameplay being confined, it is best to talk about Dear Esther’s soundtrack in which of course the storytelling figures. What strikes certainly is the deep melancholic, haunting and depressing tone of the narration which almost ‘echoes’ across the island. It reminds me of the famous writer Kafka, who’s literature was known to be sinister and nightmare-ish. The language is heavily metaphoric and thick with symbolism, which makes it difficult to wholly understand what’s being meant. Yet I found it rewarding and interesting when I was able to slowly put links between everything being said while pacing up the magnificent island.
The environment in Dear Esther is no doubt something astonishing, and would almost make the game seem like a tech demo to show off a new engine. When I was strolling up the path along the cliffs of the island I was completely immerged in the set world. Everything, from the lighthouse in the far distance to the stranded ship on the beach looked realistic whilst the caves themselves looked magnificent in the lighting. If you are not interested in the narration then it is still worth exploring this hauntingly beautiful setting.
Dear Esther is an experience that will satisfy some but not the majority. It is a game in which you need to immerge completely in order to appreciate its meaning. Almost like a book, you have to plunge into the story and ‘play’ it all the way till the end. Although its length is short (2 hours approx.) the game is absolutely worth the try for those looking, like me, for something other than the standard blockbuster and Hollywood experiences in games.
Gameplay - 6/10
Story - 10/10
What's special about Dear Esther is that the story is really what the player interprets from the narration. It is impossible to shape a definite story to the game, but this is what makes it yet the more interesting.
Presentation & Sound - 10/10
The presentation and sound in Dear Esther is mindblowing. There are few games where I explore every single corner with so much interest.
This game deserves a 9/10