Dear Esther: Landmark Edition
A landmark title indeed, Dear Esther’s debut on PS4 serves as a timely reminder not just of The Chinese Room’s seemingly bottomless well of talent, but also of Dear Esther’s capability to fulfil that oldest of gaming mantras – escapism, with vigour and aplomb in fashion that very few other games have managed to before and since its original release.
It's clear that the “walking simulator" genre has moved on since its birth child four years ago. The antiquated gameplay has been surpassed by the likes of Gone Home, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and Firewatch, and the visuals are just as murky as a Scottish rainfall. There are far more and much better narrative-driven experiences to be had in 2016, and so Dear Esther: Landmark Edition feels like a bit of a relic in this day and age.
Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is by no means going to be for everyone, but it’s a game I wouldn’t hesitate in telling people to try out even if they’re new to the narrative genre. If you’re looking for a game that could be considered art just as much as it could be a video game then this is certainly up your street.
Developer The Chinese Room is capable of capturing many highs and lows of human emotion through both their sound design and storytelling. With that said, Dear Esther: Landmark Edition feels more like a lukewarm experiment — a legacy precursor that paved the way to their more successful titles - an experience that is both significant, while also being entirely out-of-date by modern genre standards. Dear Esther was the baby step that aided in the creation of the genre — while you have to learn to walk before you can run, Dear Esther’s modern competitors have been sprinting for years.
Every game developer has to start somewhere. Dear Esther was a valiant first step into a much bigger world. It may have been something special back in 2008, but it is definitely showing its age — especially when compared to The Chinese Room’s later releases, Esther falls dramatically short of modern expectations. If you are looking to relive the first salvo in the walking simulator renaissance, then feel free to give this a try. However, if money is truly burning a hole in your pocket, you should probably just check out Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture instead.
It goes without saying that Dear Esther: Landmark Edition won't be for everyone. However, those who are willing to open their minds and try something different are in for a treat, because Curve Digital has brought a haunting, beautiful and memorable experiences to consoles with this port.
It seems odd to give a game like Dear Esther a score. If I were rating it purely on its artistic merits, I'd give it 100. As a game, its unique qualities mark it out as something that deserves to be played and experienced, but if you're hoping for something action-packed, you're barking up the wrong tree. Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is a great game that transcends what a video game can be as a medium; a perfect marriage of artistry and ideas that you absolutely need to delve into.
A hauntingly immersive experience which may not be as exciting as the average game but four years on it's still a beautiful piece of art. If you haven't played it before now is the time to pick it up.
While Dear Esther is visually captivating, it amounts to a little more than a countryside slog in every other aspect.
At its core, Dear Esther represents an exploration (or walking simulator, if that’s one’s preferred assessment) title for exploration fans.