I downloaded Dear Esther without even knowing what kind of game it is. I was expecting some sort of scary puzzle solving adventure with a lot of physicbased gameplay. However, this is not the case… at all.
The first thing you notice as soon as you launch “Dear Esther” is the art. Oh! The Art! The wonderful vibrant, yet dark and uninviting ocean. The weathered, scared coast… the wonderful, slightly surreal sky and all the love to the detail and the sheer realism of the map. I would consider this to be one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen so far. However! Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and I can imagine that a lot of players, the Xbox generation, will consider the game to look “dated.”
I like to say that Dear Esther is, visually, the exact opposite of Crytek’s “Crysis”. While Crysis excels in technique and the mathematical part of visual design (Shaders, Meshes, PostProcessing) but (for me) really flops at art direction and ambience, Dear Esther is fantastic when it comes to the art itself. (Feel, Athmosphere, Colors, Impression,Textures) while being a bit minimalistic in technical terms. I haven’t researched it but I’m pretty sure “Dear Esther” runs on the source engine. I just got a certain feel for the gears behind a game. It comes with the trade (If I’m wrong, blow me!) A friend told me that the game was a mod prior to the standalone game but I don’t know for what game. I just guess Half Life².
If you look close, you see what simple techniques have been used to achieve these breathtaking visuals. The foliage that covers up the vivid coastline is made out of simple planes that turn towards the player as he moves through it. (this really works for the grass, but I found it out-of-place for the fluorescent mushrooms later in the game.) The rocks and a lot of meshes have a fairly low polygoncount which makes them look a little off sometimes and a bunch of textures in the outdoorpart of the game seem oversharpened. You should be able to enjoy it on a dual core with a geforce 8 / 7 series graphics card or similar ATI type.
So! Here I am on this coast. The game introduces with a letter written in a sad undertone which sets the mood just perfectly. I then try to swim… which makes me drown in an odd way. After an almost whispered “come back”. I returned to the shore. Amused by that, I entered the worn down, nearby lighthouse and a flashlight got switched on automatically I instinctively tried to turn it off with the “f” button. … nothing happened. The attempt to interact with anything in the lighthouse turned out to be quiet disappointing aswell so I left. My alter ego automatically ducked as a seagull flew escaped the lighthouse and flew over my head. My further journey along the coastlines, amazed by the beauty of the sea’s horizon and with my constant companion: The guilt stricken lines to a certain Esther. After my analytical interest in the game started to fade my mind started to venture astray from the game while playing. Me too, I was once taking long walks along the coastlines of the Netherlands, thinking about lost love and how I messed it up royally, caressed by the strong winterwinds blowing from the sea. A cocktail of anger, emptiness and sadness inside… and I rage quitted the game.
At this point I was almost mad at the game for bein nothing but a sad, depressing take on solitude and despair. It took me some time to realise that it was not ment to be a game, but art. So I played it again. This time finished it. This time, I loved it.
Something on the visuals that has to be mentioned in an extra paragraph are the surreal waterlogged caves. They are, to put it in one word: Astounding. While they don’t look realistic in any way and differ from the outdoor visuals (this time we see more normalmapping and other shader effects) they are just gorgeous. Beautiful leveldesign here. It was sheer fun to explore them. I took some screenshots for you guys: Enjoy.
As I exit the caves, its dark outside and the story pretty much unfolded itself for me already. I won’t spoil anything but I can tell you this:Its pretty much what you expect it to be after the first few lines spoken. No twists, no surprises…but well written and surprisingly good voiceacting.
The final ascension is, as you would expect stunningly beautiful… yet very sad. So ist the ending.
I was actually surprised and strangely moved by it. I left my computer with a strange feeling in my guts…like I just watched a very moving and dramatic movie.
This game shows what videogames can be and that there is no genre that it can’t be.
The Art, the poetry, the symbolism. Obvious yet subtle at once is just great work.
It is what indiegames stand for and what movies have lost over the years. Is it boring? yes! To most gamers it will be… especially the lag of game in this game will make most people lose interest. Is it overpriced? yes! 8,99 for an hour of game”play” is too much especially as it has zero replay value. Would I recommend it? Yes! To everyone who enjoys “different” things as much as I do and who cares about our art form is this a must play.
One final complaint: The cameramovement is really… it sucks. It feels like you are controlling a camera in a 3D editor. I would have wanted this a little bit less static.
Trivia: I noticed a silhouette walking away from me and later on standing on a rock watching me in the game. Can you find it too? =D
Thanks for reading and give it a try if I made you interested. You can get it on steam. Its developed by “the chinese room”. Just don’t play it if you are suicidal.
Typos can be kept. No charge.