Tuesday, 21 February 2012

On Dear Esther

Dear Esther is a melancholy tale set on the Hebrides. It takes the form of a first-person 3D game, and was released on Steam about a week ago.

Is it a good story? As far as it goes it is not a bad one; but it does not go very far. Firstly, the game takes only about two hours to play. Secondly, it prefers to shroud itself in a certain layer of mystery, although the essence of the plot is made pretty clear.

Is it good in other ways? Yes: it boasts some beautiful scenery, particularly in the middle section of the game, despite using the ageing Source engine. It has an excellent, haunting soundtrack. The voiceover acting is quite well done, too.

Is it essential for it to be realised as a game? That is perhaps the most interesting question. It is striking how entirely non-interactive the game is: all you can do is walk around. No jumping, no using of objects, no crouching. Moreover, the walking is really a frustratingly slow gliding. I sometimes wished the story was able to progress without me having to hold down w all the time.

And yet, the scenery is so well realised that on the other hand I was actually grateful for the ability to explore it to my heart's content. This ability to connect a little more deeply with the environment is the advantage that Dear Esther is getting from being a “game”.