Reviews by instantstupor

25

Next best thing to a warm glass of milk...

instantstupor | Aug. 13, 2012 | Review of Dear Esther DNS

As it does an amazing job at lulling you to sleep. First things first, this is not a game. By it's own admission, it is more an experiment of narrative in the game medium. It is, in my estimation, a failed experiment. If you've played the free "Stanley Parable" mod for Half-Life 2, you will have at least an inkling of what kind of template Dear Esther uses (though clearly, the former is more lighthearted than the latter).

Let's throw some complements about this title out there first. It does have some nice graphics and the environmental design is striking at times and...well...looks like I'm out of positively, I'm sad to say. The next nicest thing I've got is at least it only lasts about an hour.

You start the game with no idea how or why you are there, nor are you given any instructions. No problem. Let's just walk around, see what we can find out by knocking around this island. First thing you find out, you better enjoy walking around, because that is the only bit of participation you have in this entire thing. Oh, I forgot. You can hold in E to zoom in about 5% closer. Unfortunately all the other keys on that button laden keyboard go unused, as your bag of tricks have just been accounted for.

As you amble onward, the game spits a bit narrative at you every 5 or so minutes. Unlike the Stanley Parable, none of Dear Esther is particularly interesting or well written. Despite the narrator's best efforts to make EVERYTHING sound important, you can't help shake the feeling after a while that nothing is. Even worse, it becomes apparent it is most definitely not cohesive. I believe that lack of cohesion was not done unwittingly, but rather was used as a mechanic by the game's designers to give the paper thin prose an air of mystery...being obtuse makes things harder to understand and, when done right, requires you work to follow the thread and ultimately gives you a sense of accomplishment & reward when you start piecing things together.

Problem being on this breadcrumb laden story's path? There is no thread. You come across bits of narrative slowly (and I do mean slowly - you walk at the pace of a geriatric snail, mash the Shift key all you'd like), and over time you realize none of them really connect. There is just random narrative; islands of text that refuse to work together in harmony to create an overarching story. Little things that do start to have any kind of meaning or interest, or appear to be revealed in interesting ways, end up being things that are already explained to you in the synopsis of the game. If you want a mild surprise, read as little about this game as you can - including, and especially, it's own synopsis.

In the end, you might as well just fire up Skyrim, start wandering aimlessly, and play a 15 second clip from a different book-on-tape every 5 or so minutes. It'll be just as interesting. All I can say is I'm glad I was able to get the game on sale for $1.39. Oh, I guess I was wrong. I did have one more good thing to say.