And now for something completely different...
With an enigmatic story that’s wide open to interpretation and some beautifully designed landscape environments, Dear Esther is likely to stoke the embers of the age-old ‘games-as-art’ debate.
Set on a remote Scottish island, Dear Esther is a kind of ghost story in which you control a nameless character, explore areas, observe what you find and listen to snippets of inner monologue from a person who may or may not be the character you are controlling.
It’s difficult to be any more specific than that without giving too much away. Part of the game’s appeal lies in the experience of uncovering things about the characters, the environments and even the gameplay mechanics as you go, and then coming to your own conclusions as to what it was all about.
What we will say is that while the game uses a first-person viewpoint similar to many modern shooters, there is no violence at all. Indeed, there are no ‘run’ or ‘jump’ buttons to press and you can’t even click to interact with objects in the game world.
There’s not much to ‘do’ in Dear Esther other than look and listen. The game is also somewhat linear and very short – you can tear through the whole thing in a couple of hours, should you so wish, though that would be missing the point. Dear Esther’s finale poses more questions than it answers, so we suggest taking your time and soaking up the considerable atmosphere as you go along. Multiple play-throughs are also recommended, as these will help unravel some of the game’s deeper mysteries.
Dear Esther is certainly stunning to look at and the visuals are accompanied by a delicate, haunting musical score. Whether it is a work of art – or, indeed, a game in the traditional sense – is open to discussion. Some will see it as a fascinating example of how digital forms of entertainment can deliver a thoughtful, mature narrative. Others may simply dismiss it as pretentious twaddle. Either way, it’s refreshing to play a game that offers something so completely different.
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It won't be to everyone's tastes, but Dear Esther is a highly original and evocative experience
Inexpensive; unusual; beautiful graphics; haunting musical score
Short; linear; not everyone's cup of tea
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