Upon seeing the title of this game, Dear Esther, I was left to wonder what it could be. In the past I had heard rumblings of this Half Life 2 mod but being that it is very narrative driven in my mind defeats the idea of “playing” a game. Where is the line between game and story? This title hopes to straddle the boundary and give gamers a new experience without actually “playing” anything.
The game starts with players taking up the role of an unnamed narrator. The objective is to figure out why you are on this island and how you arrived here. Players will trigger different story pieces by exploring the various areas of this uninhabited Scottish island. All of these monologues will be presented to the players like letter fragments written for a women named Esther.
The game plays unlike anything before it. You will not interact with enemies, vehicles or anything else commonly found in first person games. This game play relies solely on your exploration of this island to unfold the story. Some people will be turned off because the game does not embrace the standard elements of most first person or survival horror titles. I caution anyone looking for nonstop action or a simple mindless romp. Dear Esther will make you think, and I appreciate that.
The game looks great. You can see each and every detail put into this decrepit island. Water flows freely and birds soar above. The scenery in itself is a very big part of the overall package. If not for the detail players might have had an even harder time playing this narritive driven title.
The emotion felt through the narrator can be very powerful. The writing is so solid that you will go from feeling anger to sadness and barely notice that you are playing a game. This type of setup lends itself well because the player can fully take in the story without having to worry about what is expected of them on screen. Yes, this is less “playing” and more listening or experiencing but it just plain works.
The story is so well written and the different pieces are random depending on your exploration, so each play through can be a different experience. This single player experience clocks in at about 90 minutes from start to finish. With this type of game I feel the length is warranted. Also keeping in mind that this was originally a Half Life 2 mod and not a completely separate title.
Audio in first person titles is usually pretty cut and dry but here it becomes immersive all on it’s own. The howling of the wind, crashing of the waves and various other environmental sounds really do push the fact you are alone on a mysterious island.
My complaints are very few with this title. It was annoying that I could not go where I pleased. There were areas just plain teasing me to come visit but my character just could not get there and it was obvious the game did not want me there.
+Great value at $5-10
+Unique narrative driven game
+Good visuals and sound effects
+Dark, cold and solitary vibe
-Some will feel it is too short
-Game seems linear at times in not allowing full exploration
-Those looking for true survival horror or action may want to look elsewhere
This game is available on Steam currently for $9.99. If it had not been for the awesome Steam Summer Sale I would have missed this gem. At the sale price of $2.49 I could not pass it up and having played it I can honestly say this should have been in my library a lot sooner. It is dark, immersive and full of character. Things start out a little slow but when the story begins to develop players will have a hard time tearing themselves away until the satisfying conclusion.