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Dear Esther Review

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The Experience

In an alternate dimension, thechineseroom’s Dear Esther could have been given out as an English assignment. Play it, think about it and write an essay answering some questions. If I had to experience Dear Esther under those conditions, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did but it is one of those titles that provokes analysis and discussion.

The first question that immediately popped into my head when I first heard of the title was, of course,”Who’s Esther?”. It didn’t take long for the narrator to reveal her identity and her relationship through the letters that he wrote to her. With that mystery solved, more questions emerged.

“Who’s the narrator?”

“What am I doing on this island?”

“Is this island even real?”

“Who am I? Am I real or am I just observing?”

It’s easy to see how I could just be an observer because that’s all I could do in this “game”: observe. I could walk towards things that interest me and zoom into them for a closer inspection. If there wasn’t so much to look at and experience (both aurally and visually), I would gripe about the lack of “things to do” but the environments were so well crafted and filled with so much detail, the sense of wonder didn’t escape me until the end.

It did take about five to ten minutes of wandering around before I was hooked though. Any longer and I would have been a real knock against the game because that would have been over 15% of the game’s length. Dear Esther could not afford to dawdle.

It took me just over an hour to finish it and that’s including the 10 minutes or so that I spent getting turned around. Ten dollars may have been a bit much but I spent less than $3 thanks to Valve’s Steam Summer sale. And at that price, the worries and fuss over length isn’t a factor. It was just me and the game.

The Tech

Dear Esther reminded me of that Half-Life 2: Lost Coast “tech demo”. They were both very pretty and showed off some of the best visuals the Source Engine had to offer. Dear Esther’s visual strength wasn’t derived from technical ingenuity though — in fact I think the dated nature of the Source engine hurt the experience in a few spots. What made Dear Esther such an eye pleaser was pure artistic talent.

I was pleased to see that this title had controller support. It enabled me to experience it in front of my 55″ HDTV and the surround sound system. I felt immersed already but a tiny detail pushed me in deep. The field of view is a bit wider than what I am comfortable with and my first instinct was to go into the menus and adjust it. But before I committed the change, I picked up my iPad and plugged “Dear Esther field of view” into Google.

It turns out Dear Esther’s field of view should be kept as is because it helps with immersion. I figured that since there wasn’t much else to the title, I’d let this awkward field of view slide and just roll with it.

And they were right.

There was a sense of vertigo and depth to the world that I hadn’t experienced before. I’m not going to change my FOV for every game to match Dear Esther’s now but for this title: it fits.

Is it for you?

Indie titles like Dear Esther are tough to recommend. I feel like everyone must play it but it’s certainly not for everyone. Hell it may not even be the right game for you now but it could be down the line. Dear Esther generates discussion and that’s not something every title can do.

Worth a Try

Ratings Guide

For more information on Dear Esther, visit the official website.

2010 PC Rev. 1.1 was used to play Dear Esther.

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