Dear Esther might be 8 years old, but now, it’s finally on Xbox One & PS4.
Over the last half a decade, slower paced games have become more and more popular, and Dear Esther plays a pretty significant part in that. Starting off as a mod in 2008 and evolving it’s own release on PC 4 years ago, today it’s finally made it’s way to home consoles, but is a slow paced, narration based game of art, going to appeal to console gamers.
Firstly you control a man who is on the coast of an island, narration kicks in explaining about how quiet things are, and you may choose to walk up to a nearby hut to have a look around, working through the buttons, your left analogue stick is movement, and the right stick looks. the buttons (on Xbox One), well… Both Triggers, both bumper buttons and A, B, X and Y all serve one purpose. Just to zoom in your view slightly.
There’s no running, jumping, ducking or interacting, you often don’t have to find a specific spot to trigger a voice over point, instead just visit the rough vicinity that the point is about (such as a small beach area near some paper boats, will trigger quite a lengthy narrative even though you can hardly make the boats out when it first triggers.
Working your way through the 4 chapters, you’ll find the beaten path will occasionally split, one will lead to a voice over point, while the other will progress (often also leading to a voice over soon enough) this is where Dear Esther could be classed as an exploration title, and with some of the views on offer and the deep atmosphere of the island, it’s well worth trying out the other route, if you feel your current path is more progression.
Each chapter only lasts about 20-30 minutes depending on your level of exploration, and you have a small drop, (not enough to kill you, but just enough to ensure you’re not back tracking into the previous area)
Venturing across the island you’ll find beaches, rocks, cliffs and caves to explore and each will link to some sort of narrative about Paul who continually refers to Esther a lady who it seems died in a car accident.
The sombre mood, and slow pace means that Dear Esther is unlikely to appeal to younger gamers, but those who class themselves as adult, (or have a love for this style) will certainly find the atmosphere immersive,
It took me about an hour to really get into the stride of the game. Initially I was exploring, but as you realise there’s not really that much to explore, and the main information is tied to progressive areas that you need to pass, I then suffered about 20 minutes of wandering why people will bother, I’d even go as far as saying I might have subconsciously classed myself as bored.
Towards the latter stages of the game, things certainly changed though, exploration had a few more twists and turns, and the voice over was getting more intense and revealing more about Esther and Paul.
Coming up to the 2 hour mark, I knew the game was coming to an end, and it’s disappointing when a game lasts only a few hours and most is spent ‘getting in to it’ but the last half an hour really felt like my whole time with Dear Esther was worth while.
There’s obviously quite a graphical aspect, looking back at PC titles like Myst, there’s some very well made locations, you have a flash light that pops on occasionally, however moonlight and little candles flickering in the breeze mean that the torch is kept to a minimum. Graphically everything looks pretty impressive. Textres are still 4 years old and while man have been re done, there’s a little too much grass, bricks and rocks to really stand out as amazing attention to detail, especially when the one consistent that should stand out (the candles) don’t shed dynamic light across the world and just don’t feel ‘next-gen’.
However the mood, atmosphere and visuals all serve a perfect purpose inside a game which only serves limited purpose itself.
The sound is one major factor for Dear Esther, with clear, well pronounced and interesting voice over work, and sometimes dramatic background music building up against the often eerie silence of the island.
Playing with surround sound headphones on certainly adds to the experience and immersion.
With Dear Esther being a game that is all about it’s story, I don’t want to ruin a single thing, afterall the game is an interactive story, you simply walk through.
However like I mentioned before, it starts a little slow, even loses it’s way for a few minutes, however the second half just felt so much better, and while locations varied slightly, it’s the great story immersion which had that effect.
Unfortunately though, it’s all over way to quick. Many people will fly through (walking) in little more than 90 minutes, and unfortunately that is simply not enough, regardless of whether your blasting aliens or partaking in a piece of video game art.
A second play through (adding in the directors commentary) is worthwhile, but will still have limited appeal, especially to the people who weren’t gripped by the narration throughout.