Dear Esther: Landmark Edition - Review

Dear Esther: Landmark Edition - Review
DEVELOPER: The Chinese Room
COMPANY: Curve Digital
PLATFORM: Xbox PlayStation PC / Mac

Dear Esther is one of the first narrative driven "walking simulators" that truly caught widespread attention and acclaim when it was first released by The Chinese Room. It's taken a while for it to make the leap to consoles, but it final arrives coupled with a few visual upgrades and a nice a directors commentary. It's the full package but is still not one of those experiences that may be to everyone’s tastes.

The game is beautiful to look at, though amounts to little more than a lush non-interactive island that you walk a fairly linear path through from beginning to end. I say fairly linear as you can occasionally take the odd detour to find some not so well hidden dialogue - which while making for a chance to replay the game seems an odd decision, as for a title that is entirely reliant on its narrative why hide any of it away where it could be hidden?

On the flip side you actual input in the game is minimal, you wander through the environment as the well written plot is spoken at you. Various landmarks and areas rekindle old memories and conversations, which are then relayed to the player. It's wonderfully evocative but hardly interactive. Players would be more advised to approach this as an interesting novella with minor elements of control.

Thankfully the writing and experience tends to overcome the shortcomings in terms of what you actually have to do, as there is little of that, and it's a game that revels in the natural beauty of your surroundings and the tale it has to tell, the short run time and linear nature means you can easily see the whole thing in one sitting. Then you can drop back into the game and revisit the director’s commentary, which is actually full of interesting snippets that shed further light onto the game and its development.

Certainly this is not a game for everyone, and it's not much of a game at all in terms of player agency and interactivity. But as the precursor to many larger, and arguably more interesting titles, it remains a fascinating curio and one which is worth experiencing at least once. It may not hold the appeal it once did, but this is still a beautiful and fascinating package.


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