I admit that I really love all kinds of indie games, and so I had had my eyes on Dear Esther for quite a while. It seemed like a very good game with an amazing story and visuals. If I had to compare the early footages to another game, I would definitely say it looked very similar to Amnesia. Did it achieve the standards that I was expecting of it? Read on to know!
Dear Esther is quite original in more than one way. First I would like to concentrate on the setting. The game takes place on a mysterious island, which the main character (and the player who guides him) has to explore. As you move through the nature, you get to see hills, abandoned buildings, mysterious signs on the walls and so on. All of those contribute to the right atmosphere and create the feeling as if you really were there, walking beside the main character as he tells his story and the story of the island.
One of the two main aspects that were developed in this game, were the visuals. And those were just epic, I must say! All of the different sceneries of the island were so well designed and graphically improved, that I was even surprised at some point. All of that came at an average hardware price - my i7-2630QM and GT 540M managed to play the whole game at an average of 35 frames per second, while heating the processor up to 94°C! Additionally to the heat, my laptop became extremely loud. Now, enough with the hardware talk, since Dear Esther also has a big world to explore. I can definitely say that I will play this game more than once in the future, because one playthrough seemed not enough to explore the whole island - there are several choices of the paths that you want to take throughout the game, and if you take one, you might miss the other, losing a part of the great visuals and story. The sounds were not worse than the graphics - every part of the island had unique and original sounds, contributing to the atmosphere and visuals.
The story - you are a man, who is on a mysterious island, trying to find an answer to his questions. He tells his story through small parts as you progress towards your goal, which the player might not notice at first. As you walk on, you get to know about other people who the character knew and their stories, together with their connection to the island and the protagonist. More and more becomes clear, and new secrets are discovered - uncovering the biggest mystery in the end, which is: Why are you on the island and what even is this island?
Now I would like to point out the main flaw of the game - the lack of the "game" part. The whole game is more like a 1 or 2 hour movie, with only the ability to walk around and make choices as to where to go. To be honest, I am not even sure whether the player HAS a choice in this game. You just have to move on through the path, unable to run. Yes, you have to slowly walk through paths that seem obvious, and it is impossible to become lost (in my opinion) - no matter where you go, the detailed development of the island will allow you to move forward and still happily finish the game. If that was not the case, I really think I would have left Dear Esther unfinished, because I lack the patience to walk back for 5 minutes.
Overall, I would say that Dear Esther is a great movie with some possibilities of interaction with environment. And that's probably it - there is so little gameplay that it is hard to even call it a game. If it was a movie - it would receive a 9 or 10 from me. For a game with great atmosphere, visuals, sounds and deep story, it can't get more than 7.5 from me, though. It has much effort put into it, but it still isn't really a game. The inability to run was most likely intentional, as it was necessary for the atmosphere, and as I understood, it was explained in the story. The story is actually so deep and fragmented, that the player has to put some effort into understanding it, and even then the interpretation would depend on the person. For an indie game, though, Dear Esther is very good and definitely worth a try - you might like it more than I did!
A mysterious scenery on the beach