You’ve probably never played a game quite like Dear Esther before. It makes absolutely no assumptions, to the point where you’ll walk around for a few minutes wondering what the hell you’re meant to be doing. After trying to interact with a book or a door, you’ll soon realise that it isn’t that sort of game. Soon after that, you’ll realise that the only thing you actually can do is walk. That, and listen to a bordering on the pretentious narrator who feeds you bits and pieces of a story in a randomly generated order.
For the first 30 minutes of the game, you’ll be disoriented, confused and you’ll probably think about trying to solve at least one puzzle that doesn’t exist.
I’m really selling this to you, aren’t I? I can tell.
But that’s when it’ll happen. Dear Esther will suddenly pull you in. You’ll start piecing together what the narrator is telling you, start joining up fragments of the story to come to a conclusion. A conclusion that will be your own because the game’s narrative doesn’t take the time to spell it out for you.
The game takes place on an unnamed Hebridean island, seemingly after a car accident in which Esther died and it’s your job to explore the island and uncover it’s mysteries. Who is Esther? Who is Donelly? Is this real? As you move to different parts of the island, stumble across objects from the past – you’ll be read a fragment of a letter which helps – or hinders – you in finding out what happened. Your journey through the island will raise many questions and the beauty of Dear Esther is that you’ll want to know all of the answers.
The island that you’ll explore is well crafted and, particularly towards the end, is full of symbolic objects and points of interest. When combined with strong writing (minus the pretension) and a beautiful soundtrack, the whole package conveys a sadness and isolation that is part of the experience.
Without wanting to say too much, the ending was a great moment in that my mind had traveled ahead to the conclusion before it happened. I don’t mean in terms of predicting it but simply, my mind traveled to the exact same place and conclusion and that’s a real testament to the game’s narrative.
On the surface of things, the game is quite shallow, it’s short and you’ll think you’ve seen everything you need to in your first place through but I guarantee you won’t have. For example, in my first play through – I was sure that I was alone. I didn’t see a single person on that island. But they saw me.
The nature of the randomly generated voice overs will also provide you tidbits of information that you may have missed first time around. Bits of information which could twist what you thought you knew, what you thought happened and it generates a curious desire to replay it at least one more time.
I won’t lie to you, Dear Esther is a Marmite affair. The middle-ground is a vast and empty wasteland. You’ll likely love it or loathe it, but at around 70 minutes for your first play through, it’s well worth your time.
An exploration game which focuses on telling a story, and does it well. It'll pull you in and encourage you to find the secrets of the island on which it is based. Non-existent gameplay and overly pretentious writing at points isn't enough to ruin it's well-told story. You'll either love it, or you'll hate it.
- The isolated island combine with a beautiful soundtrack and strong writing to form a terrific experience
- It’s different – not always a good thing but Dear Esther has plenty going for it and pulls it off well
- There’s alot more to see than initially meets the eye, allowing for multiple play-throughs
- Pretentious writing
- As a game, it’s actually pretty dull