Friday, February 17, 2012

GAME REVIEW: Dear Esther

Dear Esther is an indie game, an adaptation of a Half Life 2 mod. You 'play' it by walking around a seemingly deserted island, exploring, and listening to a narrator. That's it. It's not really a game; more a short story you walk through. That sentence should tell you whether or not you'll be interested in trying it out.

As a mood piece, Dear Esther was interesting. Given my tendency to spend a lot of games just wandering around and exploring, this particular product felt entirely suitable to me. How effective it is going to depends on a lot of variables - not the least of which is how much you're prepared to engage with it. Get comfortable, wear headphones, maybe dim the lights - and maybe Dear Esther will convince you to slip into something more comfortable.

The dialogue is, unfortunately, often clunky and over-written - though perhaps this is intentional. Emotions can be melodramatic things, and Dear Esther is clearly meant to bypass your rational processes and attempt to envelope you on an emotional level.

As a minor meditation on guilt, grief, and lingering melancholy, it was effective enough. The bleak scenery, the mournful music, and the vague symbolism that inhabits the world managed to work some effect on me. I couldn't really tell you what the plot was - it doesn't really matter. There was death, and trauma, and a sense of loss so pervasive that you don't even really need to know what caused it to know that it's there.

On the technical side, the Source engine does the job. The scenery is starkly beautiful at times, and the soundscape layered and effective. The music is brooding, largely minimalist, and appropriate. I couldn't find a major technical fault with it, other than that perhaps some of the items scattered about were harder to examine than I feel they ought to have been. Perhaps the game could have made use of a way of interacting with and examining objects, or a least a more powerful zoom.

Who's going to enjoy this game? People looking for a different way of telling a story. I think that one day we'll see more products like this, who take what Dear Esther has tried to do, and work it in a far more effective manner. That's not really a poor reflection on Dear Esther - it very much feels like an experimental piece in a developing medium. It will appear more basic, pretencions, and insubstantial as time goes on, but I think its' heart is in the right place. If you want a spend a couple of hours exploring an emotional mind scape (literally or metaphorically, I haven't decided), give it a go.

A link to the devlopers site, for the curious:


1735099 said...

Well written sir!

Danjanon said...

Should I play it all the way through in one go?

SlackJaw said...

Sorrty for the late reply, Danjanon.

In regards to your questions - you may as well. It'll probably only take you a couple of hours, so if you've got a bit a free time, I think it'd work better as a mood piece if you play it all in one go.