Dear Esther

This is a confusing game, for some definition of game. Do you remember the saying, "Show. Don't tell"? Dear Esther is a game that's all tell, but no show. It's a pure walking simulator with a narrator. Despite this, it's nowhere near as interesting as The Stanley Parable. There's no interactivity at all in this game, and there are no impactful choices to make. Walk around, and a voice says something.

Screenshot from Dear Esther, showing a hillside covered with knee high stone walls.

The narration, seemingly coming from the player character, is confusing. It seems to randomly flip flop from the history of this island to a word salad of feelings from a drunk driving accident. It seems that the two people involved knew each other. It's so confusing that I'm not sure who was drunk at the time. (Maybe both?) And who is this Esther person, anyway? She might be related to Donelly (the other person in the accident), but it's not clear if she's his wife, sister, daughter, mother, or someone else. Maybe it was mentioned somewhere, but I was too bored to pick it up. And for that matter, who is the player?

The gameplay is weak. You walk around an island in the middle of nowhere, and its completely impervious to you presence. There is no indication of how you came to this island. The grass doesn't part when you walk through it. Debris on the ground doesn't move when you walk on it. You can't even jump or run. Your apparent objective is to reach a radio tower. There aren't even any switches to activate. I'd rather be on Myst Island than this island; even with its mismatched parts, it was interactive.

In many places, there are diagrams of electric circuits and molecules on the walls. It's unclear why. The narration mentioned something about molecule diagrams on hospital walls, just after a throwaway line about circuit diagrams. That seems like an awful lot of work to plaster them around the entire island for a moment's attention. Snippets of the road to Damascus line cliff faces outside. There was a mention about "meeting my Paul", but the connection to the Bible story is not elaborated well. I've heard many sermons about that story, and all had more content than this entire game!

Screenshot of Dear Esther, showing a wrecked old container ship.

I noticed a shadowy figure at two points along the path. It was only visible when not looked straight on. I walked up to where it was standing, but nothing happened, aside from maybe another narration. I didn't notice anything significant at those spots. The shadow might have been in more places than those, but I didn't notice any (I want to stress the I-was-bored part).

Because I'm a sucker for punishment Humble Bundles, I have both the original release, and the Landmark Edition. I've played through both, and the graphics look pretty enough in either. The music is nice, but wails of the damned ruin some of the songs on the soundtrack. The Landmark Edition seems to be a little prettier, but not by much.

Maybe this is a game for snobs, because I just don't get it. I can't imagine returning to this game, nor recalling it fondly in the future. If I want to, I might watch Let's Plays of this on Youtube instead, because let's face it, it's functionally the same, except my W key won't wear out as fast.