‘Dear Esther’ Review – Looks Only Go So Far, Esther!
The past hour of my life has been spent running, well walking, around an island in search of answers. Answers such as how I arrived at such a place, will I ever leave and who might the woman named Esther be? These questions all dance around my brain with every step I take further into the world of Dear Esther.
Dear Esther is a game that I was just given a chance to play today and is actually an updated version of a Half Life 2 mod – if you were unaware. I had never heard of the mod, nor known that it was being remade into a title of it’s own until earlier this morning. I’m going to try to give everyone the best idea of the game that I can conjure without spoiling anything but be warned, this is going to be extremely difficult to do.
Dear Esther is one of the hardest games I have ever had to review, simply due to the fact that I don’t really view it as a game. Instead of a game I would say that Dear Esther is a first person experience – one that leaves the user questioning what they just accomplished even after the screen has faded to black. Dear Esther starts out on an island where you have no guidance or explanation of what is going on. Instead of being given answers you are forced to walk, ever so slowly, to discover the archaic messages that have been left for you. I found that nothing is ever really told to the player but details are given and you can piece things together as you see fit with your own imagination.
The point of Dear Esther is to walk the trails provided in the game’s world and slowly uncover the secrets of your past. This is nothing new really but the story itself is interesting enough to keep you playing through to the end. What really makes Dear Esther stand out to me is the visual quality and sounds present within the game. Simply put, Dear Esther is breathtakingly beautiful at times. You start out on a not so amazing beach but will quickly make your way into some of the best looking environments that I have ever seen in a virtual world. Every step you take is enhanced by a soundtrack that presents itself so perfectly that you don’t even realize that it exists, until it stops.
Things fit together so well that this experience makes you feel like it is your own and the sound of the wind blowing, calming music and accompanying graphics will literally cause any player to stop moving and just stare for a few minutes. It’s certainly an experience to remember. By the time the game ends you will either be full of answers, or staring at the screen trying to figure out what exactly just took place. I would fall into the latter category since I am still trying to think up ways that this could make sense. Perhaps I am too literal of a person or just didn’t draw the right connections?
Knowing that Dear Esther provides a memorable experience with some of the most delicate visuals you could ever find is great, but it should be noted that it comes at a price. Is Dear Esther an experience worth $10.00 as it priced on Steam? While not a bank breaker, some may not be able to justify the purchase. I’ll be completely honest and say that I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to purchase this title, luckily for me I was given a code for the review though. I’d also like to note that at the time of my completion Steam has me listed as playing 1.1 hours. Dear Esther is a very, very short experience in comparison with the norm.
I mentioned earlier that Dear Esther was originally a Half Life 2 mod, well, the new version seems to be nearly identical. The obvious addition is the presentation that caused me to stop and stare with every step I took. Players who just want to see this story through can go ahead and check out the mod for free, but anyone who wants to feel the magic of being immersed in a world has to shell out the $10.00, which is where I think many of you will have a big decision to make.
Knowing that your $10.00 is just giving you eye candy is something that I don’t really agree with when there’s a free, not-so-good-looking version of the game out there. Had they just released this as an update to the mod with a free download then I would be screaming in your face to download it right now, preparing you to be somewhat blown away. The problem is that isn’t what the developers have chosen to do. The way I see it, for that same $10 I can head out and see a new movie on the big screen and get a two hour experience with potentially even better eye candy. Ultimately it is up to you, but I can’t justify it in myself to outwardly support charging the current price for what is essentially a visual overhaul.
I faced a dilemma when finding a score for Dear Esther, simply because there are in fact two ways to score it. My first instincts were to approach Dear Esther as a piece of art. Consequently I scored it high, very high in fact. After tossing it over in my head and putting myself in the position of a person who has actually shelled out the money for the game, I just can’t justify that high score. I would have been beyond angry had I spent my own money on such little content and most likely would have gone back in search of a refund of some sort.
Dear Esther isn’t so much a game as it is a Half Life 2 mod that has been re-skinned. Calling it something else would be a lie. While a lot of hard work has been put into it, the only real difference from the original are some improved aesthetics. This is not necessarily a reason to frown upon the game, but we do have to assess Dear Esther as a product, one that the developers are asking money for. If that weren’t the case then you would leave this review with a sweeter taste in your mouth.
Review summary Pros:
Beautiful graphics and sound, unique
High price vs. entertainment value