I didn’t discover Dear Esther until the day after release, the 15th of February. It wasn’t a Joystiq, or r/gaming story that informed me. It was the front page of the Steam store that told me of its release. I was confused—I mean, what kind of game calls itself Dear Esther? And why is it on the front page?
Little did I know that Dear Esther was an original mod released in June of 2008 for Valve’s source engine. After reading some of the discussion going around the web, I wondered how I could have missed out on something that had such an anticipated launch. After a couple more reviews and comments from fans, with remarks like “one of the most haunting and well-executed titles of this or any other generation” intrigued me. The fact that it was also being described as a “ghost story” solidified my desire to purchase, and my wallet said hello to its old friend, the Steam marketplace.
As stated, Dear Esther was marketed as a “ghost story”, a new concept to me, but it makes complete sense after playing the game for just a couple of minutes. It’s a little difficult to explain exactly what it is, but I’ll do my best.
There are no weapons, only a flashlight that shows its presence when the situation warrants. You cannot jump, nor can you sprint. You are forced to traverse the unnamed island at a painstakingly slow pace. There is no combat, nor is there any real interaction with any other player, or NPC. It’s only you, the narrator, and the island.
When played on a proper graphics card, Dear Esther promptly shows off the potential of the updated Source Engine, with environments that make any scene screenshot worthy, and details that have stopped me in my tracks more than once. There are only so many words I can use to describe how great Dear Esther looks, only screenshots and trailers (at the bottom of the page) can do it justice.
Not only does it look great, Dear Esther sounds just as awesome. The soundtrack, written by Jessica Curry, is nothing short of amazing. Walking along the shorelines and cliffs, the solemn, creepy atmosphere is amplified by the first eerie notes of “The Beginning”. My personal favorite is “The Cave” with its whispers and other creepy sounds. One of the few soundtracks that I have come to appreciate, it has made its permanent place within a playlist on my own computer. It is also available to download from the ModDb page.
To try and sum up the two hours I had taken to complete Dear Esther, I can only say, “engrossing”. There hasn’t been a game that has kept my attention as well as Dear Esther. I was constantly intrigued at what the narrator was going to reveal next, what was around the next corner, and what everything was leading up to.
I cannot remember the last time that the conclusion of a video game has rendered me speechless, this just may be the first. It has completely changed the way that I view gaming as an artistic medium. It is a piece of art, and completely exemplifies what our favorite form of entertainment can do.
The Chinese Room has also recently stated that they will be helping to develop the next Amnesia title, “A Machine for Pigs”. I stand by and eagerly await their next release, for they have earned themselves a fan.
Dear Esther was released on Valentine’s Day 2012, and is available on Steam for 9.99 USD (Or £6.99 of your finest pounds).
This review was done with the pre-patched version of Dear Esther.