Game Review: Dear Esther

Dear Esther at its core is a video game.  It uses 3D textures, models, and landscapes to create a world for you to go from point A to point B in with a first person view-point.  And, at about there, it stops being a ‘video game’ in the traditional sense and becomes more something else.  What that something else is I really couldn’t tell you as I have yet to experience anything quite like Dear Esther before.  It is bereft of all conflict, there are no tricky jumps or maneuvers to make, and there is nary a single puzzle to solve.  You simply explore a deserted Scottish Hebrides island at your own pace taking in jaw dropping gorgeous vistas, landscapes, and caves as a narrator chimes in from time to time and reads fragments from a letter to a woman named Esther.

This fragmented, epistolary narrative is what I guess you would call the core gameplay mechanic of Dear Esther as it is the only thing that drove me to stop staring off the edge of a cliff at the haunting and ethereal vista of waves slowly rapping against a beached, wrecked ship and the sun soaked jetties.  The prose in which the fragments of the letters is written in is absolutely stunning as each word takes on a poetic feel as it advances the story and leaves just enough between the lines for you to ponder as you marvel at the sights and sounds of the island.  You could say that the narrative is a ghost story, a love letter, sad and melancholic, uplifting, maniacal, or all of the above.  But, to delve into the story any further would take away from it, so I’ll leave it you to discover what is written within the letter to Esther.

Each word of the prose is delivered flawlessly and with deep emotion and conviction by narrator Nigel Carrington.  The stellar voice work he provides not only conveys a terrific story, but also compliments the game’s audio work to a T.  In a game where drawing the player into the world with nothing but ambiance, audio is key, and Dear Esther exceeds at this at every level beyond the narrations.  The sound effects of waves crashing on rocks, the wind blowing over caverns, rambling brooks, and echos of water dripping off of stalactites in caverns draw you into the realness of the digital realm and it’s not long before you are sucked in away from the real world.  Complimenting the audio is a dream-like, ambient musical soundtrack by co-developer Jessica Curry.  Used sparingly, but effectively the music draw one deeper into the world and story helping to blur the line of the question, is this a dream? and driving home certain sections of the narrative.

Graphically the game is simply stunning as I stated before.  But beyond the graphical masterpiece it is, it carries a soft, dreamlike aesthetic that makes you feel as if you are venturing through a highly detailed watercolor painting.  The colors of the sun reflecting off rocks and water, the hue of the flowers and dry grasses, and the light dancing on cavern walls call to you to marvel at their beauty and the delicacy of nature.  Many games have created some wonderful vistas, but between the action and drive to reach the next goal, you really don’t take the time to stop and enjoy the view.  With its slow pace, Dear Esther really lets you soak in all the painstaking work the developers put into their world.

This is an experience that I feel everyone should indulge in whether you are into video games or not.  It’s simple to control requiring no previous gaming skill other than knowing how to use a mouse and press the ‘W’ key to move forward (which I changed to the ‘space bar’ for more comfortable use).  I feel those into literature and art will get the most out of Dear Esther as it’s prose is simply elegant and it’s story touching.  From start to finish a whole play through takes about an hour and a half moving forward at a reasonable pace, so even those with tight time constraints should be able to experience it in whole in a single undisturbed sitting.  Additional play throughs will allow you to marvel more in the games beauty as well as absorb more of the prose as well as unlock other bits of the letter fleshing the narrative more, and trust me this is an experience that you will want to take more than once.

If you’re looking for action or ‘something to do’ in your video games, you may not find much in Dear Esther.  But, if you can keep an open mind as your explore the Scottish island and just soak in what it has to offer you are in for an engaging experience unlike any other available.  Less of a video game and more poetry presented through the aesthetics of a video game.  Dear Esther is proof of what the true potential of can be done in a ‘video game’.  Check it out and recommend it to your friends (all of them, even Grandma).  Peace Love and Metal!!!!

You can purchase the game from the Steam game distribution platform or directly from the developers (HERE), The Chinese Room, for only $9.99.  Many languages and subtitles are available and more are steadily being added.

P.S. Even though it is a visual marvel, a super powerful PC/Laptop is not required to run the game.  Just something somewhat modern.  I’ll post my laptop specs which ran the game at almost highest setting with very little hiccups and no problems whatsoever.

Processor: AMD E-300 APU with Radeon HD Graphics @ 1.30 ghz

Video Memory: AMD Radeon HD 6310 shared memory

RAM: 4 Gigs

OS: Windows 7

Drivers and Direct X all updated to the latest versions.  No Game Booster used.

From the dev. system requirements:

(PC) Minimum Specs:

  • OS: Microsoft Windows XP / Vista / Vista64
  • Processor: Intel core 2 duo 2.4GHz or higher
  • Memory: 1GB XP / 2GB Vista
  • Graphics: DirectX 9 compliant video card with Shader model 3.0 support. NVidia 7600, ATI X1600 or better (Pre-Sandybridge Intel graphics chipsets not yet supported)
  • DirectX®: dx90c
  • Hard Drive: 2 GB HD space
  • Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

(PC) Recommended Specs:

  • OS: Microsoft Windows XP / Vista / Vista64
  • Processor: Quad core 2.4GHz or higher
  • Memory: 1GB XP / 2GB Vista
  • Graphics: DirectX 9 compliant video card with Shader model 3.0 support. NVidia 8800, ATI Radeon 2900 pro or better (Pre-Sandybridge Intel graphic chipsets not supported)
  • DirectX®: dx90c
  • Hard Drive: 2 GB HD space
  • Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

Controller Support: PC Xbox 360 Controller

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About RiffRaff

Just takin' it easy for all you sinners.

Posted on 2012-05-02, in Videogames and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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