Dear Esther - No boxshot available.

Dear Esther Review for PC

On: PC

Dear Esther is a ghost story, told using first-person gaming technologies. Rather than traditional game-play the focus here is on exploration, uncovering the mystery of the island, of who you are and why you are here.

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9Out of 10
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Dear Esther screenshot
Dear Esther screenshot

But it's also pretty because it's framed by narrative. It's pretty, also, because it's got the most wonderful cello and piano accompaniment. It's a mood piece, in a very literal sense. All these factors, these sights and sounds, create a very specific mood, in a very specific place.

There's worry that Dear Esther isn't a game, that it's merely a short story shoved into an engine, a film vignette created in Source - and without that very immediate sense of interaction, it loses its right to be a game. Doom might raise the question of whether we can talk to the monsters, but at least it let you shoot them. Hell, at least there were monsters.

But these worries are redundant. Not all games need to be Doom, and by the same note, not all games need to be Dear Esther. We are better off for Dear Esther existing, because it offers something entirely separate from the usual fare.

Dear Esther lets you play with it, but it doesn't ever confirm or deny that the way you're playing is right. While we do need some way to interact, to expect that interaction to be purely by way of immediate feedback - that our relationship with games is binary, one driven by keystrokes and mouse clicks - seems narrow-minded.

You're presented with the little fragments of narration in Dear Esther, each giving you a little more information on the whole, a slightly clearer picture, with most contradicting something that went before. The 'game' is in bringing those pieces together to form a clear picture in your head. It's about throwing out what you don't want or need, and keeping parts that resonate with you. You'll end up with a picture of a story that's wildly divorced from both what the game presents, and what anyone else ends up with.

I think that's kind of beautiful.

That's not to say Dear Ester is without flaw, as the middle section of the game tends to go against that unguided linearity that the more open levels thrive on, leaving what little choice you did have by the wayside for a good portion. It opens up again afterwards, but only momentarily.

The beauty of Dear Esther is that it raises questions about content rather than mechanics. It strips out anything that can get between you and what it wants to say, and every problem relates to how the game presents its story, and how effective that story is. We don't have to worry about production values, or whether the whole thing will fall apart in a buggy mess. It's what The Chinese Room wants to show you, and how you take what is shown. No barriers of entry. No obstacles. No guff.

Whether you like what Dear Esther has to say, though, is entirely up to you.

Version Tested: PC

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Endless's Avatar

Endless

One of the biggest things that will stop me playing this is that apparently you cant be told anything about the story without ruining it. Nothing. It's like seeing a book with no cover, no foreword, prologue or any kind of information at all. It's a story on a deserted island is what the review says. Thats it? Where's the incentive? Sure the boxart/tagline itself says more about the game than was revealed in the review?

It's potluck so far, at least citizen kane sets the scene!
Posted 10:20 on 14 February 2012
godatplay's Avatar

godatplay

"It's a story you make up yourself based on bits of information fired at you as you wander round aimlessly."

Yeah I think that pretty much sums it up. The point is HOW the game executes on that simple-sounding idea. From the sound of the reviews pouring in, it must do that in a pretty compelling way.

For a little perspective, here's the IMDB tagline for Citizen Kane:
"Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance."

Doesn't sound like much to me. And yet because of HOW that story is told, the film is considered to have defined modern movies, much to the chagrin of those who pined for the days of films based on the thinking of theatre.
Posted 18:10 on 13 February 2012
Endless's Avatar

Endless

After reading this review I am still non-the-wiser as to what this title is, what it's trying to do, how you even 'play' it or really anything concrete about it. This is the single most confusing piece of writing I've ever read. Every single piece of information is pretty much followed by a contradiction or de-clarification. It makes no sense.

The only way this game/thing would even get in my door is if it is totally free, and even then only if someone put it on my computer for me. Based on what I see here there is very little to go on. It's a story you make up yourself based on bits of information fired at you as you wander round aimlessly. That's about all I got from it.

9/10? I'd give it 3/10 for the review itself but as far the title itself. I have no idea.
Posted 12:15 on 13 February 2012

Game Stats

Dear Esther
9
Out of 10
Dear Esther - No boxshot available.
  • All the pretties
  • Bold narrative
  • Real sense of place
  • Tends towards linearity
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 14/02/2012
Platform: PC
Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Valve
Genre: Unknown
Rating: TBC
Site Rank: 1,839 320
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