Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dear Esther: A Review.

Ah, Dear Esther...

Not gonna lie, this game will either be two things to you. If you are not patient and not thrilled at the thought of taking a SLOW WALK through some scenery, while listening to pieces of a very broken someone's ramblings, with ample forced walking time between ramblings to think over what he is saying, this is NOT the "game" for you.  It will turn out to be one of the most boring things you've ever bought and you will quickly wish you had bought a few burgers instead.

It must be said, just to make things perfectly clear, there is NO INTERACTIVITY in the entire "game" besides using WASD to walk around(no run key), and mouse to aim where you are looking.  Clicking the mouse button simply zooms in a little bit on whatever you are looking at to examine it more closely.  No items, inventory, no puzzles to solve or people to talk to.  Not even zombies to run from or combat of any sort, not even a run button for those times you go the wrong way and need to walk back in silence(voices only trigger once per play).

There is a good reason for this, but I cannot explain it here lest I destroy what Dear Esther sets out and does so well.

Dear Esther is not a "game" in the traditional sense.  I think the best description of it would be "an activity that allows the player to explore and listen to a very broken man, while trying to make sense of what he is saying, with visuals that help support or add a physical backdrop to the audio."  In short, it's a jumbled audio book that you physically walk through at your own pace, that also relies on the scenery and sometimes which route you took through it to support telling it's story.

The fact you walk through it yourself and can choose to look deeper into things you come across helps distinguish it from what a movie can provide, while the otherwise stale lack of interactivity helps keep you from being distracted from the emotional roller coaster the story seeks to convey.  The fact most of the lines are randomized helps make each visit unique, while also revealing a bit more about the deeper meaning of Dear Esther as an entity.

If what I just described sounds interesting, and you have the mindset to listen to a story told in such a way, Dear Esther is probably going to touch you in a deep, emotional way.  It's an activity, not a game, and one that puts your emotions and thinking process on the line, not your gaming skill.
Dear Esther will last you about 1 1/2 hours on first playthrough, and that you'll need quite a few visits to truly gather everything said due to randomized lines. Give it a chance, and you'll be rewarded.  Share the journey with others, and you'll be doubly rewarded as you both can talk about it and piece together what everything Dear Esther is really means.

While there are a few lines that have occasional language, the dialog is well written in a good way to avoid saying such words.  For example, often the speaker will compare people to things instead of simply calling them stupid or otherwise downgrading them.  It still can be very insulting, but the language and writing used manages to avoid any outright swearing for the majority.  

Parents should be warned that the dialog does ramble into some pretty depressing thoughts sometimes, and due to it's randomness it may choose not to resolve them by the end.  However, there is nothing "twisted" or "dark" about any of what Dear Esther is trying to convey.  Just a lot of very tragic and deep storytelling, and the occasional very detailed description of hospital or "mangled by an accident" situations.  (The details are always told verbally, visually there is very little in the way of blood and there are no dead bodies shown).

That being said, Dear Esther probably won't appeal to kids much anyway because they lack the life view/experiences (and probably patience, unless they are really into heavy reading or listening) needed to truly grasp it's deeper story.  I would highly recommend a parent plays it through first and makes a decision if their child is old enough for the very emotionally heavy story.

I do recommend it, assuming the above hasn't scared you away from it.  It's easily on my list of Top Most Emotionally Charged Video Game Experiences.  (A list I might have made up right now just to put Esther on it.)

If I had to sum it up in one word, Dear Esther is the very definition of Art.  It is very visually pleasing, stimulates the mind and soul, and most of all is very emotionally touching.

Oh, one last note...the music is easily some of the most beautifully composed stuff I've heard, and plays a big part in supporting the emotions of the scenes without taking over the show.

You can buy this work of art directly off of steam:



  1. Sounds a bit like Myst, but easier- so I imagine I'll love it. Only problm is that as it stands there appears to be no Mac version . (I'm still ona PPC Mac)

    I tried to ask about this ( and other things on the forum but after registering/answering the regiration email and logging in it said I wasn't allowed to post. (I'm Not prepared either to go running round in circles trying to work it out)

    I'd love to get hold of it, but if it is so complicated then it's lost on me sadly

    1. The main difference between Esther and Myst is that Myst had puzzle gameplay along with it's story, while Esther doesn't have anything to "accomplish" in the game besides walking through each area and piecing together it's story in your own mind(outside of the game itself). But storytelling methods are relatively the same for both, and I agree there are some similarities between the two.

      Unfortunetly I don't know of a Mac version for the official Dear Esther game.

      I don't own a mac myself, so I don't know if Half Life 2 runs on such systems. But if it does and you own it, the half life 2 mod "Dear Esther" is basically like a free version of the full game, with the following major differences:

      -Visuals are not as good at all, lots of details, small and large, were added for the paid for game that don't exist in the mod version.

      -It uses Half Life controls, being a mod. This means you'll have to put up with the quiet voice acting and the loud default audio of the player character's footsteps from HL2. The mod also allows jumping, which doesn't exist in the paid for game.

      -Much less dialog lines then the full game.

      I still would recommend the new paid for version as it's much better at telling and showing it's tale, and it's interface is designed for what it is trying to be instead of being a Half Life mod. But if you really have no way of playing the PC version, the mod is probably your only option. It contains the same length, the same basic level structure, and most of the story of the full version, it just looks and plays a lot uglier.

      The developers, The Chinese Room, are currently making both a "spiritual sequel" and the new Amniesia game, so it seems unlikely that they would have the time to make a Mac version of the game as well. But on the other hand, they are pretty good at keeping up with the community of the game and talking 1 on 1 with players/fans, so you might want to ask them directly. Their website is here:


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