Dear Esther: Landmark Edition, developed by The Chinese Room and published on consoles by Curve Digital, is a first-person story-driven walking simulator game that tells a mysterious story regarding a lone man wandering on Hebridean Island. Originally released as a free-to-play (for other purposes) on PC in 2008, and redeveloped for commercial release on PC in 2012, it has now made its way to the consoles. The Landmark Edition features developers' commentary for additional replay value and insight into the game. You can buy it on Steam, PlayStation Store, or Xbox Marketplace for $9.99.
The story is light-hearted in nature with a depressing undertone; it tells the story through love letters written to a woman named Esther by the man you walk around as. The letter fragments you'll receive will be essentially random, meaning some playthroughs will offer different insights on the greater mystery at hand than others will. You'll hear narrations involving multiple characters, but primarily Esther is the focus. The game doesn't shove any bit of the story down your throat and may come across vague at times intentionally to allow your imagine to run. Perhaps you'll form ideas that Esther is long deceased, speculations on who may have been involved in her death, the man who once charted the island had his own downfalls, and maybe even form doubts about the main character himself.
There is not much in terms of gameplay, and in fact, outside of it being a walking-simulator styled game and a couple of interactions with things, there is no gameplay. Not that this is a bad thing, just to be noteworthy of when debating to play it as to not get different expectations. You'll traverse the island of Hebridean, in a few different stages (lighthouse, shipwreck, caves, radio tower), each beginning with a new narrative and a new area of the island. Everything is fairly linear with few opportunities to deviate away from the main path, but ultimately you'll know where to go and how to get there.
You'll find signs of past life on the island aside from the obvious structures and abandoned, but the mystery regarding what is technically real and what is not is where the game will play with your imagination. You may see an item or person in the distance, only to find out upon closer inspecting it's not there. There will always be some kind of main pathway for you to progress along, and further exploring will be of little joy since there is no true running and no jumping. You'll also be able to use a flashlight which will be helpful in the dark areas.
Sound and Graphics
The voice acting from the main character (performed by Nigel Carrington) is very well done. To coincide with the Scotland-based island, his British accent seems fitting to the whole vibe. You'll hear just about all you would expect to hear on a deserted and quiet island; the wind whistling across the land, the ocean waves crashing against the shores and the cliffs, and the eerie silence from anything remotely alive and moving.
Given the fact the game is a few years old, the presentation and graphics are still really good but do have a softly aged looked to them (nothing dramatic). The environments are painted with neutral colors, adding to the depressed and lonely setting. The environments look great, and although there isn't much to interact with during gameplay, everything usually has a great amount of detail to their presence. There is a time you walk through some caves, and they were easily my favorite part of the visuals in the game as they provided a dramatic change compared to the rest of the island.
Dear Esther: Landmark Edition does its job at providing a casual semi-mystery story with the allowance of open-ended interpretations for the player to pick apart based on the narrations they receive. It's thought provoking, relaxing, and overall an interesting experience. The lack of gameplay will certainly narrow the demographic of gamers who will find it interesting, but so long as you are prepared for the experience in the format it's provided in, there's a lot to enjoy here.
|+ Beautiful sceneries||– Extremely short (approximately 1.5 to 2 hours)|
|+ Eerie feeling environments||– Not very interactive|
|+ Commentary for added replay|
|+ A thought provoking story and ending|