Posted: April 30
I like it when games dare to be different. I liked Penumbra, and I liked Amnesia even more; those games struck a nice balance with atmosphere and gameplay while being different from almost everything I had played before. Dear Esther, however, offers no such balance since it abandoned any semblance of gameplay altogether. It's been said here by other reviewers and I'll say it again, just to reinforce the notion: there is no interactivity to speak of and no real gameplay whatsoever.
There are no meaningful choices to make, no consequences, no inventory to manage, no characters to interact with, no enemies to defeat or evade, no objectives to complete; you can't even control when your flashlight turns on and off (this feature is automanaged for you as you enter and leave unlit areas). It is a game that dared to be so different that it actually stopped being a game.
I know what you're thinking: "BeatYourHeadIn, what do you expect from a title that hails from the 'games as art' genre? Certainly you weren't hoping a shotgun was a necessary plot element?" Good point readers, and fair enough, I have certainly been conditioned enough by multiple decades of shooters that I feel an... emptiness... when I can't simply apply liberal amounts of buckshot shampoo to *ahem* clean
the obstructions from my first person journies. What I do expect
from a game
is a little bit of game
play; just a teensy weensy bit. No? Nothing??? Sheesh, we should probably rename the "games as art" genre to "art as games" since that simple rearrangement says volumes
more about what it's actually like to experience Dear Esther. Dear Esther is not really a game after all, rather more of a landscape simulator that is best enjoyed by plugging your video output into a digital picture frame hung on your living room wall. Moving on, I don't want to obsess over what Dear Esther IS NOT this whole review, so I will talk about what it IS.
As others here have pointed out, it is simply a different way of telling a story... a visual metaphor, if you will. In my opinion, it is an unsuccessful way of telling a story, and I wont be paying for any other "games" that may appear in this "genre". As a game, story, movie, Bob Ross painting, whatever, it was dull and un-entertaining. Un-fun, that's a good word; Dear Esther is un-fun.
There are just enough good points to squeak a single
positive sentence into this review of Dear Esther: the soundtrack is quite good, and the visuals are nice to look at (especially in the caves chapter); I will award a couple points for those qualities, even though I want to give it a flat zero.
I'll award one more point to the fact that the developers had the balls think out side the box... in fact, they stepped outside the box, picked it up, folded it, put it in the recycle bin, went to the nearest Blockbuster Video and rented What Dreams May Come. So that's it, a generous 3 out of 10.