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[Gamer Diary] What I’ve been playing… February 2012

2012 March 1

Here we are, back again! This month has been fairly quiet for me on the gaming front as I’ve been blessed with the joy of Real World Things™, but do not fret(!) – there’s still content for you in the form of Dear Esther (a brand new – sort of – game) and other old bits and pieces I’ve been pootling about with.

Looking out over a rocky outcrop, over the sea, on a dark cloudy night, towards a bright moon hanging in the middle of the sky.

Dear Esther's artwork is deeply beautiful and will make you feel things

Dear Esther

Dear Esther was released through the Steam platform on February 14th this year as a standalone offering via The Chinese Room. This is not, however, the first incarnation of the innovative story-led first person; it began life four years ago as a mod for Half Life 2, and for its independent release it was supported by The Indie Fund, who recouped their investment within five and a half hours of the game going on sale (selling over 16,000 copies in the first 24 hours). Now, that’s pretty impressive for an extremely minimalist game in a market full of guns, cars, swords and big bad monsters!

It’s £6.99 here in the UK, which means it’ll be floating somewhere around the $10/10€ mark for other regions, but bear in mind it only has full audio support in English. As it was plastered all around Steam and was something new, interesting and completely different, I thought I’d give it a go – if nothing else I’d have a new release to tell you all about for once! My first attempted playthrough ended rather swiftly, late at night, after the game decided it didn’t want to listen to my keyboard commands.

Never fear, I came back to it the next day after I’d had some sleep and my computer had been given a chance to think about what it had done. It worked fine the second time around. You start off by a lighthouse on an island somewhere in the Hebrides; the (male) voiceover begins to read excerpts from a letter (or letters), addressed to “Esther”.

As you walk around the island, trying to find your way, he reads different excerpts at different points in the game. I’d go into much more detail, but as I finished the whole sequence in just over an hour, I wouldn’t want to spoil things for anyone yet to play it by discussing my theories. Instead, I’ll tell you about the atmosphere and the artwork, both of which are superb. You’re alone on a bleak island, battered by wind with no person or animal in sight save the odd seagull, and it is a sadly beautiful world.

I found myself a little unnerved walking around, especially when I spotted a shadowy figure in the distance who, when I approached, disappeared (this happens twice). I think, in retrospect, that I was mostly spooked because I’d watched The Woman in Black the day before and was still half-expecting some ghoulish face to pop up and scream at me.

However, personally, I found Dear Esther a little underwhelming considering the hype it was garnering; I understand every compliment given to it, but equally those amazing, clever, innovative bits are altogether a bit too brief, especially at £6.99 – about 10 minutes per £1 in my case. The art is great, the story is great (if a little too easily guessed), the concept is great and it is a brilliant injection of something different into the market. It just would’ve been better if the ‘value for money’ factor was improved.

Apologies for the lack of feminist critique, but the only thing that it could be faulted on there is the age-old “Why is it always a bloke protagonist?”. Esther, obviously, is hugely important to the entire game so although she is absent, she is constantly present as she is who you’re talking to – she is the one you love. Still, indie game + male protagonist = not all that innovative after all.

It’s a good game if you want to have some feelings, think a bit and look at pretty Scottish scenery while under no obligation to chase, fight or challenge anything. My only advice would be to make sure you definitely don’t want to use that £7 on something that might last you a bit longer.

Other Bits & Bobs

Apart from the above, I haven’t been up to much with the sole exception being Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection on PSP. Yep, I dusted off the ol’ PSP and have been button bashing during my lunch breaks on my Saturday shifts. I’ve also discovered I’ve lost all my wicked-sick skills and keep getting K.O.’d by rubbish opponents. It’s fun for portable fight-based gaming and there’s a bowling minigame too. It features the standard Arcade and Story modes as well as the potential to PvP online. As it’s a) old and b) PSP (now replaced by the Vita) it is pretty cheap to buy – best bet is probably eBay though – and presents a standard bit of amusement, providing you can ignore the panty-flashing from almost every single female fighter.

Next Month

On March 9th I will have a copy of Mass Effect 3 in my hands, so you can expect a review on that once I’ve powered through it, and hopefully I’ll be able to say it’s improved on some of the downfalls of the last game (which I explored many moons ago, elsewhere in the interwerlds). I will find other fun things to play and gabble about for you though, as I know not everyone cares about ME3.

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