When I want to do a brief write-up of something, unfettered by immediate discussion from The Escort Mission crew, you got yourself a Quickview. Today, I want to talk about Dear Esther.
Originally built as a Source engine mod for Half Life 2, Dear Esther has been improved graphically and aurally to become its own game. I had heard it was heavy on the mood and exploration, so it seemed like a novel concept to check out. Despite its traditional FPS foundation, the lack of weapons, inventory, enemies, and even the ability to jump make this a very different kind of "game".
Your main interaction with Dear Esther is to walk at a solid, but slow, gait around an island while vocal clips (memories? talking to yourself? thinking out loud?) and beautiful, somber music play in the background. All of this combines to help flesh out the otherwise enigmatic nature walk you embark upon as you explore this mysterious place. The graphics are nicely detailed (at least far as the Source engine and your computer can push them), and the color effects used inside caves are truly magnificent. It's all very peaceful and serene, but at the same time very unsettling. The storyline is vague and progression through the game frames everything as a dream or delusion. Even after beating it I pretty much had no idea what had transpired, as if I were in a haze the whole time.
If ever there was a first-person story told in an interactive manner, then Dear Esther would fit the bill. The experience could not really be told in another medium quite as effectively. Is it a success as a game? If a short (it can be beaten in 1-2 hours), linear (there are some side and alternative paths, but there is one main road) adventure consisting of walking, examining, and listening with no combat or collecting qualifies, then yes. It's easy to see how others would object, but I think that would be selling it short. The whole thing is a very unique experience unlike anything else I've played, and despite feeling confused about its purpose or ultimate meaning, it's still worth the price of admission.
Speaking of which, Steam is currently providing Dear Esther for half off its usual price (only $5) and can be played on either OS X or Windows.