Dear Esther was originally created in 2007 by Dan Pinchbeck, a researcher at the University of Portsmouth (UK), as part of a project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council to explore game play and storytelling. It was built in the Source engine and released in 2008 as a mod for Half Life 2. In 2009, professional game artist Robert Briscoe did a complete overhaul of the visuals and level design. In late 2010, Valve granted a license to make Dear Esther a completely independent game, and it was released on Valentine’s Day 2012.
According to www.dear-esther.com, “Dear Esther quickly established itself as an award-winning, critically acclaimed experimental first-person game. It abandons all traditional game play, leaving only a rich world soaked in atmosphere, and an abstract, poetic story to explore.” Well, Dear Esther was an interesting first try at an interactive literary creation but as a so-called “game” it was not that much fun to play. Nevertheless, it does show that the future of this genre has great potential.
Dear Esther creates an immersive atmosphere with beautiful imagery and haunting mood music. Exploring the deserted island and attempting to discover its secrets reminded me of Myst, but without the puzzles. At only two hours in length, it wasn’t much of an adventure either. I basically just walked around and read writings on the rocks here and there – these included biblical references, chemical symbols, and electronic diagrams. Interactive storytelling is definitely an intriguing concept, but they should expand the environment and incorporate some puzzles to make the game more engaging.
I would have liked to have met Esther, but she only appeared in flashbacks related by the narrator. The story that unfolds through his enigmatic monologue is dark, disturbing, and sad. The main character does not acknowledge God’s goodness but instead falls into despair which was depressing. Everyone on earth owes God gratitude for life, so we should do our best to live this life that God has given us and fight to keep our spirits up. Dear Esther does just the opposite, it imparts a sense of hopelessness.
By the end of Dear Esther, I felt like I’d been tricked. All along I was anticipating some sort of resolution, but instead it left many unanswered questions. If you’re looking to play a fun game, this isn’t a good choice. If you’re interested in game development, consider getting Dear Esther – but only if it goes on sale! – just to imagine the possibilities. In spite of all its glowing reviews, I personally think this game is overrated. I had really expected more, especially after viewing the trailer which is much more impressive in its own right than the game itself.