(Hey, any of you remember my last blog?) Remember how in the second part, I tried something artsy and experimental with my narrative, and nobody knew what the hell I was talking about? (I hope you remember; it was only last week.) Well, that's Dear Esther for you, only with prose about 67% less purple. Now do not mistake this for me calling the game bad. In fact, don't mistake this for me calling the game good, either, because I have no goddamn clue what the hell to think about the game.
How about I move from the certain to the uncertain so I can ease you in? That sound good? OK. First up: the presentation is amazing. This much is evident from the title screen, which....OK, I can't really find any decent words to describe this, mainly because they've all been used before, so how about I just use those words? It's soft, it's somber, it's evocative, haunting, emotional, beautiful, some other nice words, and a slightly mean phrase: not as good as the graphics. That's not so much an insult to the music (obviously) as it is to the graphics, which tend to be the strongest parts of the game. They can also fumble a bit in a few areas (the dirt ground looks less like dirt ground and more like painted concrete with bits of paper sticking up out of it), but for the most part, Dr. Dan (I'm not giving up that moniker) did a fantastic job of stuffing detail into everything. There's a reason I gave this the caption I gave it. And it's not even just a technical thing, because every little nook and cranny has something, anything to contribute to the story.
I just can't figure out what the fuck that might be. Maybe I should start by describing the general story. You're a guy who's wandering around an island, and...there are car accidents and sheep syphilis? I don't know. That's really the only thing I can talk about with any authority. Everything else is just an unclear blur. Does the narration describe the past or the present? (I'm leaning more toward past, because the present is just "walking around and stuff".) Is the protagonist supposed to be going slowly insane? Is he suicidal, or is the water really that fucking crazy? (I don't get either vibe, because of the game's "tell, don't show" policy on these sorts of things.) And more importantly, what's the point? Is it supposed to be something about reductionist mindsets and how dumb they are? Clever, but there's only so much evidence for that in the game, and so many other directions it could be going in.
But I can't insult it too much, because I don't think things are just thrown around the island for no reason. The story at least seems like it follows a three-act structure, since there's an obvious climax (and what a climax it is), and the narration makes stuff like a stray Bible relevant. There's clearly a reason why there are all those chemical equations strewn about; I just don't know what that reason may be. Besides, most of the stuff I can figure out is pulled off really well. (Some of it is stupidly obvious, but let us not speak of such things.) There's probably an undercurrent about how living alone is no way to live, and, well, the game reflects that. Characters tend to lead shitty lives when they separate from others, and you get a good sense that the protagonist (he doesn't have a name, so let's call him "Dear Esther", since that's something the game would readily embrace) is getting more frustrated and unhinged as his adventure stretches on.
The atmosphere's also pulled off pretty damn well, if I'm to leave anything to this game. I'm aware that I mentioned how great the game looks, but what use is that if you can't build a world with it? Fortunately, that's exactly what Dear Esther does. Death simply permeates the island. Oh, yes, there was life there at one point; that much is made clear. But now? The only remnants are the scattered lives of those before you and the premonitions of things to come. You know, sort of like Fragile Dreams, because I'm the type of simplistic asshole this game might be calling out, possibly. I don't know. Perhaps this is the type of game that's supposed to resonate with you emotionally, as I have heard from time to time. Being that I have all the emotion of a late model PS3, I may have to settle for "I don't get it", as much as I don't wish to use that to describe this game. It feels like I'm fulfilling some type of hipster prophecy.
- Man, this game looks amazing.
- And the story's pretty good....maybe....
- It's a short hour of utter confusion.
This video should be easier to get.
(As always, I prefer to work with opposites.) Just look at these two games. Dear Esther is an artistic look at...something (I still have yet to figure out what), largely grounded in reality. M.C. Kids, meanwhile, is an advergame dipped in a bucket of acid. (Your choice on what type of acid, of course.) What's more, while I'm not very confident on what I think of Dear Esther, I have a pretty good idea of what I think about M.C. Kids: it's a freaky-ass game.
And psychotic, at that. Let's examine this from the beginning. Ronald McDonald is exposing his genitals in public when the Hamburglar steals his magic bag. Now Ronald knows (or at least has a vague clue) where his bag went, so obviously he enlists the help of children in retrieving this eldritch artifact. But before he'll tell them where it is, he makes them collect cards with his face on them out of a vague sense of vanity. Do you have any other explanation? Stranger still, every other character in the game does the exact same thing. They all recruit children into this cruel goose chase, and it...changes them. These are not the same children they once were. Twisted by a world that wants them dead, these children now murder the creatures of the forest so that they might drink their blood for sustenance. That is an actual gameplay mechanic; it is now the only world they know. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THESE CHILDREN, YOU SICK BASTARDS!?
Why have you involved them in your sick card quest? What's the point? I mean, I can respect a game trying to get me to explore levels and requiring more than simply going through them, but this is just mean. Your game's already short, so it comes off as needless padding, a point that's only hammered home with all the backtracking at that end. And that's not even getting into how you're actually supposed to get the cards. Some of them can just be deviously cruel. For example, look at this. Try to imagine how you get that without dying a pointless death. Now keep in mind that's a 1-up; the cards you need for progression are often harder to get than that, because that red stuff around Ronald McDonald's mouth isn't make-up.
Wait, are there any parts of this game that I actually enjoyed? Hmmm.....well, the game looks like vomit (although it might be an American thing), and the music is...actually pretty good. Full of energy and everything. That's more like it. Now we're getting into things. How about the pla-OH FUCKING HELL! This game is all kinds of crazy. No matter what level you go to, you're gonna find something balls-out crazy, like walking upside down or jumping on floating bones in a level that is clearly not Hell. (But that's only because every other part of the game is already Hell.) I know it sounds confusing, but like Dear Esther before it, there's clearly purpose to be found here. Once you understand that, the levels become kinda fun. You're just wondering what the hell's gonna come next. Even if you're not into vague insanity, you can always just blast through the levels in under a minute Sonic style. Sure, it's not as refined as Sonic (I'd prefer my momentum without a sense of inertia, if that makes any sense), but if you're willing to abandon the core feel of this game, you're gonna take what you can get.
- I honestly didn't think I'd ever get another use out of this, but M.C. Kids can only be explained with 109 clown faces.
- Why do you have to collect cards for Ronald McDonald to tell you where the person who stole his bag went? Because Ronald McDonald is a masochist, you see.
- My whole world is upside down. I will never see things the same way ever again.
- Which was more terrifying: this or that McMiku video I posted last year? This atrocity. It wasn't even close.