by Chris Priestman
reviewed on PC
Speak Of Me, Mortals
Dear Esther has had many words written about it in the last few years and a whole lot more in the last week. Having never played the 2008 mod I was admittedly curious as to what the game may hold. Was it as beautiful and terrific as I had heard? I was hopeful but was also sceptical of such wistful mutterings from players recounting the experience as if having been kissed by a lover for the first time. It was all too grandeur and mysterious for my liking. Consequently I wanted to know if I would mirror their romantic account of their time in Dear Esther and so headed in with an open mind.
What I found inside Dear Esther was a pretty world. Robert Briscoe had certainly done a good job of applying the curlers, the lipstick and drawing on the fake eyebrows of this floozy. Esther is quite a stunner indeed, until you get up too close and then the blemishes start to appear. It’s best to keep a builder’s distance – wolf whistling from the high up scaffolding. To lure you in to its beauty further is some gentle piano, accompanying your steady walk about this pastoral island. Venture further and you discover a man’s voice, recounting memories with a flowery promiscuity.
To be honest I just found it confusing, even distracting from the verisimilitude of the environment that lay before me. Trying to absorb the words muttered in my ear or scrawled in subtitles required concentration and that meant halting exploration. After a while even that became a chore in itself. I don’t think anyone can deny the rising boredom that emerges within Dear Esther’s opening proceedings. The initial beauty feels skin deep and the game’s clear attempts at being something more poetic serve only to counteract its own efforts and leave the player in a state of perpetual bewilderment. It’s like blankly nodding along to the masturbatory ramblings of an artist about his work, while fighting back the yawns so as to not give away your true feelings.
I mean, I am quite the fan of Tarkovsky’s poetic films for pete’s sake. Have you seen Solyaris? The opening of that momentous film features drawn out shots of springs, sprigs and rolling fields. You’re supposed to grasp a sense of natural beauty from this so as to juxtapose it with later scenery in the film. This is basically what Dear Esther invites you to do except the plants are quite obviously flat, 2D images; a restriction of its old tech. The other issue with this is that it basically straps the player down, pries open their eyelids as seen in The Clockwork Orange and spits the instructions “Look at this and find meaning!” into their face. Well, probably not quite that aggressively.
Beautiful and subtle
Boring and short