Apparently Dear Esther has caused a bit of controversy. This isn’t because it’s full of horrible violence or explicit sex, but because some don’t feel it qualifies as a game.
I’m not going to delve into that particular argument. I will say that it’s not a traditional game and I tend to think of it more a story that you explore. There’s really nothing else to do but explore and listen to the fragments you get from the narrator.
The story also doesn’t explain itself, leaving it wide open to interpretation. If this doesn’t sound like your kind of game or story, then I really don’t suggest you buy it – no matter how cheap you may find it.
If this intrigues you, then keep reading. The world is beautiful, really beautiful. The island is wind swept, supporting little tall plant life, no animals that I saw, and few, if any, birds. However, it all looks gorgeous with a lovely amount of detail, and wonderfully weatherworn texturing. I also have to say the water reflections are some of the best I’ve seen and suit this game perfectly.
You start on an island near an abandoned lighthouse. From here you use the traditional WASD keys and mouse to explore. Oh, did I mention this was on PC? It’s on PC. The only other ‘special’ key is ‘Q’ which allows you to swim back up. There’s no physical interaction with the world other than walking, falling or swimming.
There are a few paths you can take from here and there’s no indication of which is the “right” one, or even if there is a right one. There’s a fair bit to explore, and a few dead ends, which means retracing your steps at the slow pace the game allows. I’m not sure if it’s deliberate or not, but you don’t “sway” as you walk, nor does anything seem to be pushed out of your way as you go through grass. It really feels almost like you’re a ghost floating along, unable to touch the world.
The story itself is broken into four chapters. You can start at any of the chapters, or just start at the beginning and work your way through them. Personally I think going from start to finish is the best way – though there’s no way I’m going to say it’ll make things any clearer.
I’m not going to say any more about the game, or story. Though truthfully, I’m not sure if it would be possible to give spoilers, given how ethereal the whole thing is. On the other hand, I found that experiencing and discovering was rewarding and I’d hate to break that for others.
I’ll give one last ‘warning’. This is just under $10, so if that seems too much for a story that you have to work to read, then I’d suggest you don’t get it.