Summary: “Yes, but is this the right medium for that story?” That’s the first thing they told me to ask myself in film school. It’s something not enough filmmakers ask themselves throughout their career. This is exponentially true for game designers, as evidenced by Half-Life 2 mod-turned-retail interactive-narrative Dear Esther .
Excerpt: It’s perfectly reasonable to ask why something like Dear Esther exists in the first place. Essentially a remake of a Half-Life 2 mod. Problem is, it’s not really a videogame. Critics have been struggling to attach a label to Dear Esther —experimental, interactive movie, a narrative experience—none of which really describe it accurately. Dear Esther is a game that isn’t a game.
Excerpt: There has always been a divide in the world of videogames, where action and narrative have uncomfortably met and struggled to combine. While most titles choose to eschew the story in favour of weighing more heavily upon the ludologist side of the balance, few choose to almost carelessly strew the narrative around the player in a complex and abstract form.
Conclusion: Unfortunately with reviewing this game I have to think of it in terms of should someone spend their hard earned money on this game and that hurts Dear Esther in a regrettable way. It tells a very interesting story in a mysterious and ambitious way and stands out as a risky decision on the developers but manages to be at least a little entertaining for how shallow the gameplay is.
Conclusion: In spite of a lukewarm reception from critics, Dear Esther was a financial success (In your face Bobby Kotick! - Ed. Vader) and that should be proof enough that gamers are interested in exploring non-threatening virtual worlds as well. Worlds where they can experience mature stories and feel a broader range of emotions than what they feel in typical 'kill or be killed' games.
Pros: Beautiful visuals, equally accomplished soundtrack, professional writing and good narration, the game run smoothly with maximum settings even on mid-range PCs;
Cons: A bit too much ambiguity and wallowing in self-pity, no interactivity whatsoever, can be finished in under two hours.
Excerpt: I wander through your beauteous landscapes, marvel at the artistry of your world, and yet I weep, for I know that many of my fellow shall cry “But there is no shooting!”. More still will cry “But there is little interaction!”. And I shall weep, for they have somewhat missed the point.
Conclusion: Frankly, for my money, I couldn’t care less. There was more emotional resonance captured in that lonely wander through hills and caves than the majority of releases I’ve played in this or any other year, and it was pitched to a nigh-on perfect length to never outstay its welcome. Do we need shooting, puzzles or interaction to classify something as a videogame? Maybe, but whatever Dear Esther is, don’t get bogged down by the semantics.