Dear Esther – A Review
Heather here, from The Amateur Hour!
I won’t lie, it’s been a while since I actually invested any time into a game and even longer since I finished one. With that in mind, I wanted to start out with something that seemed uncomplicated, but also something I hadn’t played before. I was drawn to Dear Esther (sold by Limited Run Games) because I love a story-based game, plus the cover intrigued me. I choose books, wines and apparently now games based on whether or not I like the packaging. Plus, I figured I couldn’t go wrong when you read things like this: “Dear Esther is an award-winning, critically acclaimed, experimental first-person game…”
First things first, though. There might be possible spoilers ahead (probably obvious, right?), but I will try not to give away anything too important.
Okay, so first impressions. Right away I feel like I’m stepping into a really updated version of Myst, which was one of my favorite games as a kid. It’s first-person and there is an eeriness as the music begins to play and you walk towards a dilapidated building. That is where the similarities end, however. This is a very linear game and I hesitate to even say adventure because that word to me suggests some action that maybe gets your heart racing now and then. This is more of a meandering journey for the vast majority of the game.
I notice fairly quickly that most of the buttons do nothing except zoom in to look at things. Well, that makes game play even easier then, so I took it as a positive for a newbie dipping her toes into the playing field again. As I walk around I’m not entirely sure what my purpose is in this game. Will there be puzzles to solve like in Myst to propel the game forward? The answer is no, not in the typical sense. It becomes clear fairly quickly on that my main goal is merely to walk, to look, and to listen. Listening is very important in this game… and looking… and that’s about it. Don’t get me wrong, though, the looking is well worth it.
There are vast cave systems with waterfalls and glowing mushrooms, abandoned buildings and ships, stunning cliffs and paths and vegetation. It’s a treat for the eyes as you wander this lonely island and try to figure out just who you are and whether or not you are alone and where these paths are ultimately leading you.
One probably nit-picky thing I want to point out is that I feel like I’m about 2 feet tall. Later, the gliding when moving rather than the slightly jarring sensation of walking makes sense, but why is my point of view from that of a toddler? Perhaps if I was actually adult-sized I could more easily walk around, which at times is not as straightforward as it should be and is another mildly annoying issue at times.
The day progresses and as it approaches nightfall and the narrative becomes more intriguing and also slightly more intense, I realize that I’m getting close to the end (also there are only four chapters on the Menu screen, so that gives it away too). I decide to not prolong the inevitable even though I do have a lot of unanswered questions.
Ultimately, I do think I’ll go back and play through more to find all of the narrative spots as I missed a lot and there are several stories going on that I’d like to know more about. Thankfully where the story for me is lacking, the game makes up for in the visual and audio department. The music and sound in this game is fantastic. I want to buy the soundtrack, I like it so much. Also, the voice acting? Phenomenal. You really do feel like you can almost feel the breeze coming off the water and if you close your eyes you can easily imagine that you are truly on an abandoned island.