A deserted island... a lost man... memories of a fatal crash... a book written by a dying explorer. Dear Esther is a ghost story told using first-person gaming technologies. Rather than traditional gameplay, the focus here is on exploration, uncovering the mystery of the island, of who you are and why you are here. Fragments of story are randomly triggered by moving around the environments, making every telling unique. Features a stunning, specially commissioned soundtrack. Forget the normal rules of play; if nothing seems real here, it's because it may just be all a delusion. What is the significance of the aerial - What happened on the motorway - is the island real or imagined - who is Esther and why has she chosen to summon you here? The answers are out there, on the lost beach and the tunnels under the island. Or then again, they may just not be, after all...
I really wanted to like this "game", but it has quite a few big issues.
The walking speed is atrocious. Throughout the experience, I was continually jumping because the jump speed is faster than the walking speed. In something that is atmospheric, I am most definitely not drawn in if I am having to constantly jump around like a circus act because I am bored just trying to reach my definition.
There are no subtitles, at least what I could find. Apparently, in the $10 remake, there are subtitles, but not for the original mod, which is disheartening. In such a story-driven experience, I would think you would want the player to have the best chances of understanding the story, and subtitles would definitely help when the music gets too loud over a certain passage or when the line simply tries to use too many big words and rereading the sentence helps a lot.
The vocabulary is definitely a problem. The whole time through, I felt like there were two different sentences for each line: one the writer actually wrote, and one where he looked up every word in a thesaurus and chose the prettiest words he could find.
Random dialog choices is a bad choice. This isn't a choose your own adventure book. This isn't a real video game where replayability is considered a good thing. This is a story that has a message it wants to get across, so don't go around giving different players different messages. It makes this story even harder to follow.
Overall, I just don't feel like this mod does what it wants to do very well. It has potential and shows innovative ideas, but in the end, it's just pretentious with its word usage and doesn't try to facilitate it at all with anything helpful like subtitles. And even though I do like the story, I wouldn't play it again to make more sense of it, because the character simply walks too slow. I was much more fascinated reading the plot theories in the game's Steam forums than I was actually playing the mod.
They call it adventure art. Beautiful to look at and a semi interesting story. This game was long, slow and boring. The visuals and over all puzzle will keep you playing for a little while. I would have considered this to be a great source engine tech demo but nothing more. If you want to be reviewed by game companies and not art critics then I'm going to rate it as if it's a game. The game play itself is none existent. It reminds me of the source steam release "Graveyard" mixed with Myst.
I had to play this game a second time to give it a proper review and understand it a little more.
Voice acting = 10, really good.
Plot = 8, a little artsy and overly detailed for the modern gamer though.
Level design = 8, decent considering it's mostly HL2 content.
Gameplay = 2, very slow walking with flashlight.
Still, this mod feels like it would have been better as a short story/film. As a mod/game it feels out of place.
Dear Esther is by no means a terrible mod, but that doesn't exactly mean it's great. It is plagued by many faults and only really holds a niche value with a certain audience.
Dear Esther is a good example of why video games are indeed an art form. Though many areas (accept the caves) aren't particularly visually stunning, it could easily appeal to any art critic in terms of story.
You play as a man (possibly Esther but from the way the story is told it sounds like he is writing to a friend named Esther) who has had a troubled past. Someone (your wife, I believe) died in a car-crash (possibly of your doing) and you somehow find yourself on a small island with an infected leg. Yeah, there's not really any action.
However, the story is told in some kind of monologue that, and lets be honest here, is presented as pretentiously as possible.
That's really my big gripe with the mod. It's not that it has no combat or you walk slowly then a glacier. No, it's because it's by far one of the most pretentious games I've ever played. No, wait, it is the most pretentious game I've ever played, hands down.
Still, if you're one of the "artsy" crowd (snobby douchebags) then you'll enjoy Dear Esther in all its glory.
Oh, and don't forget to pay 10 dollars for the remake. Whats that? You don't want to pay 10 dollars to play a mod that wasn't that good to begin with? Well to ******* bad, because they're going to make you pay for it even if all it is is a turd in a plastic bag!
The narrative work here is applaudable for it's originality, not for functionality or ease of understanding. It is a contender for games-as-art in a lot of circles and while I don't disagree, I don't really think Dear Esther qualifies as art when it looks so crude and rough hewn.
The story is, as many have said before me, close to nonsensical. But if you dig past the symbolism, a fractured narrative that is a bit Sanitarium and a bit Jacob's Ladder remains. A man goes into a coma from a car crash. The key guilt's of his dying moment are exploded, like a library book overdue, for example.
Little touches like that are interesting but ultimately buried in fractured story telling. The random generation and out of order sync for the letters and VA was a poor design choice and requires a physical notepad in order to keep track of everything, and I don't believe any experience--sans a mystery story--should require physical input in having to actually remember what is going on.
Being a second-language english speaker, i didn't understand enought of the commentaries to understand what was going on really, but maybe that was the purpouse of the game, seeing how many doubts he had.
Could you add some subtitles for all us non-US/England/whatever players?