**Don't read unless you've played the game! It's currently available on Steam for $9.99**
I'm not even totally sure if it makes sense to do a write up on "Dear Esther" since it's really not a 'game.' It was originally released as a Source Engine mod in 2008, and then made into it's own thing over the course of the last 2 years. It came out yesterday on Steam. It's probably best to think of it as an experience centered around mood and emotion - you wander around a deserted island, exploring and thinking about your life, the island, and your lost love Esther. It's absolutely beautiful. It took me about 70min to complete.
What I Liked:
Everything. I agree with the views expressed in this article: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/02/15/what-i-alternatively-think-dear-esther/ I wasn't really interested in 'figuring it out' as I wandered around experiencing things. Of course I was curious about things, but I feel like I understood pretty early on that I was never going to receive a complete explanation of everything that was going on. Some of the narrative really touched me, some of it gave me real information, and some of it just sort of served as further mood building, and didn't give me anything specific.
For me, the appeal of "Dear Esther" is in that "wow" moment that comes when you round a corner or enter into a new space and you're met by a spectacularly stunning visual, or even just a really beautiful quiet space. It's hard not to write about without getting too flowery, but it's a game that really transports you into the space. It's really pretty amazing. :)
What I Didn't Like:
Losing control at the end? This is sort of the one thing that I've seen come up in reviews so far. The final action of the game is performed by the computer - but I don't think it needs to be, and it would be much more poignant if you did it yourself. I think anyone that plays this understands what needs to happen - although I guess I can understand taking this choice away from the player to guarantee the desired outcome. I dunno, it's tricky. :) I will trust that the designers did it this way for a reason, since I think everything else was handled wonderfully.
How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
Irrelevant! I finished "Dear Esther" and that's the end of it. It's a one time experience - I don't really think it's made for going back in and experiencing it over and over. ;) The debate about the cost vs. playtime seems pretty silly to me - I think $10 is a great price for an experience like this. I don't feel cheated because it was over so fast, or because I won't be playing it again. It was the perfect length, and a tremendous value for the price.
I think this is one of those experiments that's happening right outside of the space of mainstream games that will hopefully help push games into a new place. I felt things when I played "Dear Esther" - I'd like to have more experiences like this.
Oh, also it's proving to be quite profitable as well (http://indie-fund.com/2012/02/dear-esther-has-reached-profitability-it-took-5-hours-30-minutes/) which will help people take bigger risks on this sort of experiment in the future.