by Chris Priestman
reviewed on PC
Finding Purpose (cntd)
I even tried to find meaning where there was none; often walking towards a dimly lit dead end and for what? A suitcase or a car tyre, that’s what. I guess this is supposed to suggest certain elements of the story which were obvious by that point, I was just annoyed that I then had to trundle slowly back whence I came as the game demanded. Exploration is not rewarded but frowned upon in Dear Esther – stick to the story or else.
The point is that it puts the player in the position of a viewer – a person to engage with the audiovisual from a distance, with their mind. All I wanted to do was prod every tin can I saw. It’s a museum; feel free to look but don’t touch. This restriction only led me to want to find ways of extracting a reaction from this spatial painting, whereas the game wanted me to sit back and soak in some form of higher meaning. Thus, when it presented me with a cliffside from which to admire the view, I jumped. Well, it’s more walked and fell as there is no jump function available.
Out Of This World
I think perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Maybe if I was then potentially the game would have had more resonance. Unfortunately it didn’t though. It feels under developed to me – as if an interactive fiction in which the words are not adequately replaced with visual sustenance. In this oft-forgotten genre, players are often tasked with choosing which path to take and this is mirrored in Dear Esther. The problem is that down these paths is nothing that interesting, you just trod on until you start to realise your finger is aching from holding down the ‘W’ key.
Then it hit me! “This game needs more LSD”, I muttered to myself while passing grass sprig #1027. Stupid suggestion but it does. Or maybe I did. The capacity for some whack-out trip is provided in Dear Esther’s odd (some say haunting, I don’t) landscape but it requires too much patience and/or boredom for me to enter this sub-layer of the game. The closest it ever gets to being interesting is when you enter the caves mid-way through your traipse. Gorgeous lighting and incredible water effects make this not only a visual highlight, but some odd goings on make it the game’s most trippy parts.
It’s not enough for me though. This may be of complete coincidence but the same day I played Dear Esther was the same day I discovered an old PSOne game called LSD: Dream Emulator. The two actually hold many similarities. You cannot interact with anything in both, the environments are odd and the story is left for the player to interpret. Whereas Dear Esther is quite bland and attends to an imagined sense of meaning; LSD is bizarre, disturbing and taps into my imagination a whole lot more.
A Matter Of Perception
My reaction to Dear Esther is something even I find quite surprising. I usually adore this pretentious stuff, the ‘arty farty’, the take it or leave it garble. For once, I find myself to be the outsider who didn’t connect with the material and didn’t find a greater meaning in myself or the game. Whether to attribute this to my state of mind or the game’s shortcomings is uncertain, but I can say that Dear Esther is certainly not the greatest thing since sliced bread and it is by no means for everyone.
Personally, I think it’s great to have its alternate, lavish experience in the market and if you can connect with it then great. I fear some people may be clutching at straws though – I don’t find it subtle so much as lacking. It really depends on how you perceive a blank piece of paper – is it the canvas on which a great piece of art can be contained, or just a thin shaving of a tree?
Beautiful and subtle
Boring and short