A Story for Melancholy Moods
Download Size: 1.5 GB
Time to Finish: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Most Impressive Level: The Caves
Price I'd Pay: $5
Steam Price (2/15/12): $10
Like a good horror game, Dear Esther insists upon being played at a certain time: a half-hour before sunset, with the lights dim, when you won't be interrupted for 2 hours. It is for thoughtful times, those periods where you don't feel like doing anything but pondering the path you've taken so far. It's not so much a game as it is remnants of a story you silently wander through, tracing the routes and memories of a man.
The man narrates to you throughout the game, starting the moment you wash ashore onto an apparently-abandoned island. It takes a moment to learn the controls: you can only walk & look. There is no interaction, just movement and observation, listening to the man as he explains what he did here, or what this reminds him of, or something not related at all. You are soaking in a story, and although there's a few pieces of it you can seek out or just ignore, for the majority of the game you simply follow the path towards your destination. The journey is the point here; I won't go into the what, lest it ruin your enjoyment of it, but instead the how.
The narration is good if perhaps a tad too subdued, and the music is properly atmospheric ala Portal or Half-Life 2, but the graphics during the last 2 levels deserve major kudos for beauty & atmosphere. It manages a few jaw-dropping moments out of something as simple as a cave with a pool, or a moon overlooking a harbor. It's a pity the first 2 levels look similar & mundane in comparison; I think they could've been condensed into one level without losing any story or appreciation for Abandoned Island in Daylight.
So, were the graphics and story worth it? It depends. This is an unusual "game", a situational one whose enjoyment relies on your current mood more than any fun mechanics stored within. If you're still interested in it, I would suggest you check it out. But not immediately. Instead, wait until it goes on sale and store it someplace safe, until the time comes when you're in the proper mood for it. Like a fine, rare wine, it is consumed quickly; save it for an occasion you can savor it.