Gamer on a Budget #2 – Dear Esther

Gamer on a Budget #2 – Dear Esther

Reviewed by William LJ Galaini

Dear Esther
Developer: The Chinese Room
Price: $9.99
Where: Steam, Desura,
Platform: PC, Mac, iOS

Dear Esther is an interesting and worthy experiment in digital narration. As movies and literature encounter their limitations more and more, it seems gaming is picking up the slack. I would even argue that some narratives can only be told within the context of digital interaction. Such is the case for the compelling, haunting, and overall lovely Dear Esther.

Twenty years ago, while playing Doom, I often wondered if someone would eventually make a first person game without a single weapon in it. No punching, or keycards, or platform jumping or headshots… and here it is. Dear Esther has you wandering about an idyllic island somewhere off the more remote coasts of England. During your explorations, you receive occasional and pertinent segments of a narrated story. This story, the motivations behind the narrator’s musings, and the clues of the island’s past inhabitants are why you will feel compelled to keep exploring.

Dear Esther will either hook you fast, or not at all. The environments have impressive and captivating detail and if you look closely, you will find a number of fascinating and even scary moments. I discovered figures standing in the distance, and perhaps even a ghost crossed my sight. I’m not sure. One dark silhouette on a stone path above me vanished every time I looked directly at it, but when it was in the corner of my screen it was vividly clear. Was it a glitch? Was it a ghost? Was it my narrator unable to perceive reality?

These are the lingering questions you will have long after the experience of Dear Esther is done. While the lack of clarity may frustrate some, there is plenty of meat and tender affection here within the environment, narration, and music to where you will not feel robbed. There are conclusions to reach, and Dear Esther provides plenty of complex material for you to interpret.

Why you would buy it:
Fabulous visuals, both technically and artistically
Compelling, challenging narrative to decipher
Haunting without being creepy
A lot of Easter Eggs and hidden messages with narrative meaning
Marvelous musical score

Why you would pass on it:
While the music and narration is top notch, the sound otherwise is minimal
Honestly… there is no traditional game play
Some invisible walls when exploring
Zero interaction with the environment
Sometimes feels like the best tech demo ever

Recommended for: mature, intelligent gamers and readers.

This Gamer on a Budget review was originally published on the old Winterwind Productions site in August, 2013, prior to our switch to WordPress in 2020.

William LJ Galaini
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