This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).
Time played: 2 hours
From what I gather, Dear Esther has polarised the gaming community. It seems you either “get” it, and you proclaim the wonders of the experience and hail it as life-changing; or you don’t, and you bitterly declaim your lost, wasted time, calling it a pretentious non-game, a tech demo, a ‘walking simulator’ if you’re feeling charitable. Is it even a game? The debate on that rages on.
One might be tempted to call it an interactive story. Even that invites contradiction, as while there is a very small amount of control available to the player, there is no real interactivity beyond movement. In addition, there seems to be a story, but the deeper you go, the more questions are raised. What is real? What is symbolic? What is projection? Do seemingly scattered thoughts and memories a story make? Is this just madness?
I can really only say that this is art. The music, sound effects, narration, and graphics are all astoundingly excellent. They come together perfectly to present a totally immersive atmosphere, but only if you are open to it. Do not try to impose yourself on Dear Esther. Do not demand anything from it. Come to it from a place of wonder, and you will be rewarded with an extraordinary experience.