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Review: Dear Esther

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Walking and Talking

As I finished Dear Esther, I felt nothing. There was no sense of revelation or tinge of intrigue. I wasn't sad nor happy nor content. I felt no emotion at all. I wasn't moved in the least, which is ironic given all that walking.

This is problematic because the purpose of this type of game is to tell a story and to evoke emotion. Dear Esther is more a loose narrative strung along in a setting that doesn't feel thematically consistent with much else. It's a series of locales that are shrouded in mystery, but that's the extent of the connection. Dear Esther never ties these two necessary halves together in any meaningful way.

Dear Esther (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])
Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Curve Digital
Released: February 14, 2012 (PC), September 20, 2016 (PS4, Xbox One)
MSRP: $9.99

It may be easier to list what Dear Esther is missing rather than what it has. It's set in an empty world that's often devoid of any significant indication that it's lived-in. Some places are stunningly gorgeous (the luminescent caves, particularly) and those locations can be a visual treat to traverse. But, the plodding movement speed combined with a number of dead-end paths mean that any sort of exploration is more of a chore than an incentive.

Most damning is the pace at which the narrative unfurls. Dear Esther makes a point to grant short snippets of dialogue every so often along the journey. These come along relatively infrequently when compared to the amount of walking in between, just enough so that you'll find yourself wondering what that last message was. Compounding matters is the enigmatic tone that these lines are written in, usually making them exceptionally hard to parse.

While Dear Esther never quite figures out how to affix its story to its setting, the atmosphere is helped tremendously by Jessica Curry's score. This is the unequivocal high-point of Dear Esther. This soundtrack shapes the moodiness of the jaunt, and transforms all the locations into far grander places than they'd be without it.

But, it's not enough to be Dear Esther's saving grace. This is a game from 2012, and it's clear that the genre has grown past it. Better examples like Gone Home are exploratory in nature and let the player discover their narratives through small but important details; Dear Esther just force-feeds a trickle of dialogue and then shrugs if you don't get it. It's the inferior way to present a story.

Still, some people will find meaning and depth in what Dear Esther delivers. I envy that. The linchpin of these games is to develop a connection with the player. Along with that connection comes emotion. Dear Esther is simply too disconnected from itself to ever connect with me.

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Dear Esther: Landmark Edition reviewed by Brett Makedonski

4.5

BELOW AVERAGE

Has some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst, but difficult to recommend.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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Brett Makedonski
Brett MakedonskiManaging Editor   gamer profile

While you laughing, we're passing, passing away. So y'all go rest y'all souls, 'Cause I know I'ma meet you up at the crossroads. Y'all know y'all forever got love from them Bone Thugs baby... ... more + disclosures


 


 


Also on Destructoid: Dear Esther: Landmark Edition   (3)   From our database:

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    Filed under... #Indie #PC #PS4 #reviews #The Chinese Room #Top Stories #Xbox One

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