Dear Esther Review (PS4)

The following letter washed up on shore, after the author played indie darling Dear Esther on the PlayStation 4. It appears to have been written to the game itself, and not to the Esther in question from the title of the game. The letter may contain slight spoilers as to the nature of the game, but seems to steer clear of the end of the game.

Dear Dear Esther:

I have lost track of how long I played you. My stream time says an hour, but sometimes it feels like days. I stumble across your rocks, except when I don’t, because your game engine keeps me on a straight and narrow path. Except that one place where you let me fall off the cliff and I earned a trophy.

In the minutes after I awoke on your shore, I received the first disappointment. The pallor of the environment wore on me. I entered the first cabin, hoping to find a remnant of a story. I found chemical equations written on the walls and a dirty, old toilet. I walked down the shore, near a shipwrecked boat and a cave. Then I turned and walked back up the hill. Slowly. Because you don’t know how to run. Or jog. Or walk faster than a turtle.

You spoke of these other people on the island; Donnelly and Jakobson, but I know not who they are. There is a hermit. And you use a lot of large or pretentious words. And I still don’t know what a “bothy” is.

Dear Esther, why are all these boats washed ashore your island, and what is your preoccupation with the story of Paul? This, I’ll confess, is what kept me going — your references to Damascus, to Paul and even to Lot. I thought, “there must be more to this.” There must be an unveiling of information upcoming. I was wrong. Mostly.

I will also confess to being infatuated by your younger sibling, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Keeping things shallow, Rapture just looks better. And that makes some sense, right? You’re a little older, showing your age even with a facelift. I couldn’t help but think of your landscape as a Bob Ross painting, only drearier and uglier.

But in Rapture, I had things to find and discover. I was invested in the priest’s story, the widow’s, the farmer’s. But with you, with your island? I was never invested. I was never even sure that any of it was real. I’m still not sure.

I was ready to give up on you, multiple times. I was bored — I feel like I should find a fancier synonym for bored so that I can fit with your style — and I just wanted you to end, Dear Esther. Then, mercifully, you did end.

You do have this going for you: The ending made me think. Three revelations in the last minute made me reassess the entirety of what came before, but then the credits ended, I quit to my home screen and deleted you from my PS4 forever. I couldn’t bear the thought of traversing your island ever again, at the speed of a dying snail.

So now, I will fold this letter into a paper boat and set it off to sea, hoping still to find a way out of this feeling that I missed with you, or that I just came to you too late, and you were crippled under the weight of my outrageous expectations. Or that I simply misinterpreted your meaning. I’m not upset or sad that our paths crossed; I just don’t hope for them to ever cross again.

At this point, the letter cuts off. It is unknown whatever happened to the author. He may still be looking for the same emotional connection that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture gave him. Who knows how long he will look?

As to his interpretation of the ending, and the meaning of the game as a whole, he does not want to spoil the story for anyone who may still be interested in playing Dear Esther. Send him a Tweet at @SethJosephRoy if you’re interested in discussing.

In many ways, Dear Esther is the beginning of the “walking simulator” genre of games that have become more prevalent. If you’re a fan of more recent offerings like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or Firewatch, then Dear Esther is a must-play. Clocking in at just over an hour, the experience provides a great look into the beginnings of the narrative exploration genre. I just don’t find the look to be entirely compelling on its own merits.

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