By Dalton McClain / January 10th, 2017
|Developer||The Chinese Room|
|Publisher||The Chinese Room, Curve Digital (consoles)|
|Release Date||20 September, 2016|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, iOS, Linux, PS4, XBox1|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
I want to preface my review by saying I love all types of games. Even though “walking simulator” games are an iffy subject for most gamers, I tend to enjoy a lot of them. Usually, they have good enough characters and story to stand out and make them worth looking at. That being said, this game may be the most soulless game I’ve ever played.
First I’ll start off with some of the good points about the game before I dive into what really annoyed me. The soundtrack to this game is really good and sets the atmosphere excellently. The slow, heavy piano really helps to set the melancholic scene that the game is set in, and the chanting/voices in the background help bring out the eerie undertones. The score is beautiful, yet creepy at the same time and it perfectly reflects the story. As far as I’m concerned, Jessica Curry is a really talented musician and did a phenomenal job on the score of this game.
Speaking of atmosphere, that was possibly the best part of the game. You’re alone on an ominous, yet somehow captivating, island, filled to the brim with abandoned and decrepit buildings, strange cave paintings, and remnants of the old inhabitants. The island is very well detailed and really draws you in, making you want to explore everything, just to see if anything is hidden or to just look around in wonder.
This, however, is where the bad things start to come in. Above I mentioned that the atmosphere makes you want to explore every nook and cranny, and to a point that is true. The only problem is that exploring is really rather boring to do. As with most walking simulators, you only really have three controls: turn, walk, and zoom. That wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t move at the speed of a snail that was catching a ride on top of a turtle. The slow movement, topped with the fact that there isn’t even an option to move faster makes this game a chore to drudge through. To add to that, there isn’t really any reward for exploring or going off the beaten path. The most you get is 4 hidden urns that don’t add anything to the story. No hidden endings, no ways of altering the story, no Easter Eggs, nothing worthwhile to hunt for. It’s such a waste too, seeing as the voice actor who narrates the game, Nigel Carrington, is a fantastic voice actor whose talent is seemingly wasted on a poor script.
Most people probably expected limited controller input, after all, this IS a walking simulator. Surely the story, the main appeal of walking simulator games, is enough to make up for it, right? Sadly, that isn’t the case as the story might be the worst part of the game. It’s a very simple story that is very short and overall just isn’t that interesting or new. Basically, you’re a dying man who is stranded on an island that has long since been abandoned. The plot is a ghost story of sorts, revolving around a number of characters and what happened to them. The only thing that makes the story seem bigger and more drawn out is the fact that they drag out the sentences to make them sound robust. This could’ve worked a lot better if the story wasn’t so lifeless. There doesn’t seem to be any point to anything that you do, the characters are really one-dimensional and none of them are really fleshed out that well, and the ending leaves you just feeling empty. None of the characters really have much in the way of personality, and none are endearing. They all have their story, and that’s it. There isn’t anything to them after that.
Overall, Dear Esther is more of a disappointing game than anything. With the great atmosphere and music, it had a lot of potential. Dear Esther just fails at almost every category that can make something like this work. A lot of people say that this isn’t really a “game” and it shouldn’t be reviewed as such, but even if that were true it would still not be that good. The incredibly short story is mediocre, the characters are forgettable, and the game overall lacks any sort of charm. Overall the story took me just under an hour to complete, which is sad considering the price point for this game is about $10. There are a lot of games out there that give a lot more substance for the same price. It was hard to stay interested in characters I knew nothing about and a story that sounds like it was written by a college student for their drama teacher. No amount of good music and awe-inspiring visuals can fix that.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
dear estherReviewThe Chinese Room