The Best Game Never Played
Dear Esther (Interactive Story / PC)
Introducing the Genre
The definition of what can be considered art is sometimes hard to define whenever a new style or genre is created. Gaming culture outsiders have been very adamant that video games can under no circumstances be considered art. Given how early games like Space War and Missile Command began, and how the games which make the news like the Grand Theft Auto series and the Call of Duty series are, it’s no wonder the outsiders can’t see what we see. As games are becoming more and more mainstream, there are more and more developers with more and more different ideas, ideas which will blur the line of what can be considered art.
I’m not sure what to call this genre yet, but there are more and more like it every year, very artistic games from new developers which concentrate on an immersive experience rather than racking up achievements in multiplayer. The objective isn’t as clear as reaching the end of the level or as predictable as anything I’ve seen before. These are games like The Stanly Parable, or the upcoming Gone Home.
These games most closely resemble interactive movies, like Star Trek: Klingon, from the early CD-ROM era. For the sake of differentiating the two, I’ll call these new games, interactive stories.
Introducing the Game
I don’t remember how I first heard about this game, if I read a review, if I saw it on one of the Extra Credits “Games You Might Not Have Tried,” if the description of the game during a Steam sale was interesting enough, or if reading the Wikipedia story of how this mod became a full game convinced me to finally try, Dear Esther.
I reiterate, it’s hard to classify this as a game, to there’s not any real gameplay to it. It’s more of an experience.
I don’t want to be spoiling anything for anyone so I’ll just give a setup. You’re alone on an island, documenting, narrating about your life there to your dear Esther as if you were writing a letter. Before the end, you should be moved by it.
The creatures rendered an extra detailed world with an atmosphere of bleakness I’ve never seen done better. It used the Steam engine which might be considered “dated” by now, but I’m continually and pleasantly surprised how much mileage everyone has squeezed from it. Only those without a sympathetic imagination would complain.
Subtle and bleak, complementing the graphical aesthetic and completing the gloomy atmosphere. You can also buy the soundtrack through Steam. It’ll be worth it, if you like that kind of haunting ethereal style.
There is a wonderful narrator. The ambient noise and weather effects make the island come alive.
The controls should be accessable to anyone. WASD, mouse-look. They will not be a barrier to anyone playing the game. This is not an action-game or a real-time strategy, no one will be befuddled about how to use the controls. It is a bit frustrating having to walk at the character’s walking pace. It’s a bit slow, so you can’t quickly investigate everything. Then again, the main character isn’t the kind to run around mute, rutting through boxes for random items, so it fits. In my eyes, the slow pace of walking is part of what makes each experience unique. The point where I became frustrated and stopped exploring every little nook meant I focused on the story more, and I robbed myself of some storyline.
No, not for this game. That would be like someone reading over your shoulder. It would take you out of this experience. Not that it couldn’t be done, just not for this game.
I finished the game in about 2 hours even. I really don’t find myself yearning to repeat the game because of the slow walking speed. I might try it again and look in every corner, hoping to trigger some monologue I didn’t hear before. I’m sure there were some paths I hadn’t explored before I crossed a point of no return.
A $10(current price, not on sale) for a one-time, two-hour experience that I controlled, it was worth it. If this has sounded interesting so far, it’s worth it. If you’re still on the fence, wait for a sale and it’ll definitely be worth it.
The ending left me so exhausted and depressed that I’m not eager to replay it.
Boiling it Down
You’re buying an experience, not a game. It’s a new genre of entertainment.