Dear Esther

Published by Tyro D. Fox in the blog The Leather Bound Book. Views: 327


[size=+1]Dear Esther[/size]​

I loved the Dear Esther Source mod.

I thought I'd just make that clear. I mean, I'm not sure if it came across in what amounts to wedding vows I had written when I talked about that Source Mod the first time round. It was like a cross between a ghost story and a love letter as you wonder through those hebridean isles, chalk-riddled and cold.

So, then The Chinese Room decided they wanted to make an updated version. I was excited, booting the game up as soon as I got it.

It was interesting to see what they did.

The new Dear Esther is an update in every possible sense. The story has been altered and made fresh, the graphics have been completely re-made and now have a far more bespoke feel but that music is still here, just as it always was.

So, the game now has a greater amount of detail in its areas. Places not only look dilapidated, but glass has been broken and weeds are now growing out of the concrete. The caves now drip with water, stalactites hang like fangs from the ceiling and are lit with a curious blue algae that grows in lines along the walls. The world has been crafted into a form of art and is beautiful to look at. While my now elderly laptop doesn't enjoy the larger amounts of things to render, I did get it to run well enough on lower settings. Even then, the environments looked fantastic.

The music has not been changed and I am thankful for it as it's a haunting collection of music that easily moves me whenever I hear it. It's sombre, woeful and powerful, in my opinion. I might not know music that well but I know when music manages to capture the very soul of the art it has been teamed with.

But the most powerful and insteresting part of Dear Esther is the story.

In the Source Mod, the story was unclear. It gave everything the feeling of a ghost story. Like finding the love letters or diaries of a long passed-over soul and reading through them, trying to understand their purpose and the writer's mind. The voice they gave these extracts was perfect for these snippets of woe and longing for both redemption and longevity of memory. Someone carved lines into the rock and scrawled across the cliffs to make a living memory of this man's torment.

Now here's the interesting thing with the new version: they cleared the story up. Now you understand what is happening far clearer. Everything else is still there, save for a largely re-written script. That style of wandering misery and deep thought, that music, that location, that metaphor. It's all here but presented in a much tighter and clearer story. You understand what has happened. You get his pain and what caused this. You get to realise where people like Donnelly comes from or the significance of motorways.

The new Dear Esther is a sharper story that is able to do far more with it's freedom from the Source engine. One fantastic part comes in the caves where you fall into a pool of water. Originally, this part was signified by a car stuck in the rock but here, they...well, I won't spoil it.

But what it does do is add some mysticism back into this game. The original game's script was vague and confusing, meaning that you had to collect clues from multiple play-throughs and decipher everything. Nothing was clear and so it gave everything the air of mystery. The new game was lacking that to a degree. In making a clearer story, I had very little reason to play-through again and again to gain the full story because I felt I understood everything after one run-through. It was a good experience but it wasn't as captivating as the original for that reason.

A further criticism levelled at this game is that the game isn't all that interactive, making for a dull experience where the player is largely superfluous. To that I say: "Yeeeeaaahh, kinda but it's still better than a film or a book, in my opinion. It might feel like a museum tour but at least I can take in the sights for as long as I like. They never let you go for a dip in the tanks when you go to the Sealife Centre, do they?". For having little interaction, it misses the point of the game, which was to be an experiment in storytelling. This is a polished version of that same experiment, with a couple of variables altered just to see what would happen.

Is Dear Esther worth your time? Well, sort of. If you've played the original, then this is mainly for you. It's more like those "HD Classics" things where they re-touch old PS2 games with HD graphics and sell them in a bundle. This seems more for fans than newcomers. However, if you do enjoy atmosphere and a good story well told but are looking for something to relax rather than thrill you, this is probably for you too.

Although, there's still the original for nothing. It depends on whether graphics bother you or not.
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