Reviewed on PS4
Images taken from Steam Page.
Dear Esther: Landmark Edition recently released on PlayStation 4. I thought then that now was a perfect time to dive in and take a look at the much maligned title. One of the first games to be tagged as a walking simulator, and rightfully so, although in my view that criticism isn’t harsh enough. Dear Esther isn’t just guilty of having no core gameplay. It’s guilty of being pretentious, nihilistic, ugly, and clumsy. I wouldn’t even recommend Dear Esther to fans of narrative driven exploration games, it’s not even a good example of the controversial genre.
The world of Dear Esther is nauseatingly bleak. Designed, I believe, by a sadist to wear down the will of the player. Bleak isn’t necessarily bad, games like Dark Souls have been able to create gorgeous landscapes whilst maintaining a bleak and oppressive atmosphere. The problem with Dear Esther is that the bleak atmosphere is achieved by robbing the world of any colour or shape. Most everything is grey and that which isn’t is bland. The sub-par texture work combined with this lack of aesthetic variation makes for, without a doubt, the most boring game world I’ve ever seen. If you’re hoping things get better from here on out, well, I’m sorry.
My biggest personal gripe with Dear Esther is the narrative. The game’s narrator drops in every now and then to drip feed the player a story, beyond these occasional snippets of dialogue the game has no direct narrative. I tired of the narrator within about ten minutes of the experience, stagnant voice acting combined with a script so nihilistic i’m concerned for the developer’s well-being. At every opportunity the narrator will slip in some cynical quip, lines written for emotional effect that are too vapid to actually make an impact on the player. These quips are part and parcel of an intentionally vague narration that refuses to explain itself or the story, expecting the player to infer their own meaning, which would be fine if only the game made me care enough to try.
I have one good thing to say of Dear Esther, the soundtrack is competent and thematically appropriate, although I’d have rather spent an hour listening to it without the occasional interjection from a masturbatory nihilist.
Dear Esther fails to connect with me on any level. The narrative is pretentious and one couldn’t be blamed if they were to mistake the writing for that of a melancholic teen experimenting with Nietzsche and nihilism for the first time. By the end of the experience I felt robbed, of time, money, and just a little bit of sanity. If you’re thinking about buying Dear Esther I would just recommend taking a walk with a podcast of choice on instead, it’s free and you’ll be happier for it.
Dear Esther receives the arbitrary score of 3 out of Passion Pit