Original Review can be found Here. (Via VelocityGamer)
Video games have come a long way since their inception long ago. But few games have delivered an experience so rare, that one has to play it. Dear Esther, a strong, story driven experience, developed by TheChineseRoom, has delivered a gaming experience like no other. Originally a Half-Life 2 mod, developed by the same company, they have grown and have earned the opportunity to release the game as its own product. Does a game that relies heavily on story and narrative, rather than gameplay prove to be something great? Well it is more than safe to say that Dear Esther is a story based experience that will leave the player in awe, covered in goosebumps, and asking for plenty more.
It is important to note, that Dear Esther prides itself on being more of an interactive story, than an entire video game in itself. With little interaction with the enthralling environment, and extremely simple controls that do nothing beyond movement and zooming, the entire “gameplay” is basically guiding your invisible protagonist through the island as you hear a mix of fragments of memories from the past, and his current thoughts of his surroundings. Although this can be seen as a negative, it is the story and narrative that will undoubtedly bring the player into the island and develop into an experience more so than a game.
Dear Esther tells the story of a protagonist who has returned to an island from a distant past, in order to recover some lost memories that his body is aching to remember. Not much is given to the player at first…actually; nothing is given to the player, except a guiding narrative tone, and an adventurous itch that begs to be scratched. Many moments during the exploration of the island, you are presented to an added narration spoken from the protagonist. Each narrative is acted incredibly well, and is wholly believable, with a delivery that will seldom leave the player in awe, and will draw the player deeper into the experience that is Dear Esther.
Presented right from the get-go, the player is shown a beautiful island, handsomely decorated with rich details and extremely believable lighting effects. The graphical appeal of Dear Esther is something that few games touch on, and is something that is truly a sight to behold. From the lush vegetation populating the island, to the dank caves that create a tunnel-like system below the island, this entire game is a visual masterpiece that all single player enthusiasts should experience at least once. Not only does the game have a masterful presentation, it is easy to get drawn into the game by the artistic and chilling musical pieces that accompany the player through the experience. At key moments during the game, an orchestrated piece will play to set the mood for the player depending on the surroundings, and every track played in the game matches perfectly, and will be sure to send chills up and down any player’s spine.
It goes without saying that a game that is meant to be an interactive story, will have faults. In the case with Dear Esther, there are many issues with this product when judging it from a video game standpoint. For the price of roughly $10 USD, the 2-3 hour playthrough may seem justified, but with only a few hours worth of gameplay, it can be a major turn-off to most gamers. Not only that, but the scope of the island is quite remarkable in size, which leads to my next point, the movement speed of the protagonist is sometimes agonizingly slow, which slows down the actual pace of the game. I have run into a few glitches, such as after returning to the surface of the water, I was left with a black screen which halted gameplay at least twice during my playthrough experience. Also, after one playthrough, a player may be left with little ambition to continue through a second time, leaving the lasting appeal on Dear Esther something to be desired.
Dear Esther can be considered a masterpiece in the eyes of some, but also can be seen as a boring, drudge through an island with no exciting purpose or meaning. As this reviewer saw the game, I saw it as a driving, intelligent, and absorbing story that should be experienced by anyone willing to take a break from the overflow of videogames packed with set pieces and overused clichés. Dear Esther took a chance on something completely original and innovative, and TheChineseRoom succeeded in nearly every step. Although some may consider it “bad” by videogame standards, Dear Esther is something truly remarkable, and is fully deserving of any player’s time.