Very soon, thousands more will have the opportunity to get lonely with a videogame in the most beautiful way. Yes, The Chinese Room is bringing both its poetic narrative games, Dear Esther (2012) and last year’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, to new platforms—the former is coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, while the latter makes its way to PC.
Other than a few pleasant additional touches, like a developer’s commentary for Dear Esther and a few bug fixes, the games will remain essentially unchanged. That means each of these games will, once again, invite you into their virtual worlds as their seemingly lone consciousness, left to roam a lovingly-crafted recreation of classic British countryside and coasts.
What perhaps distinguishes both of these games is the feeling of having been left behind. There’s a reason for that: you have been. Maybe it’s the absence of other human characters—bar the orbs of light that represent the disappeared townsfolk of Rapture—but the environments become characters unto themselves as you wander. You navigate dirt roads, crystal caverns, deserted business spaces, and each in turn tell you fractured bits of a story.
And that goes for both games. They want you to look, to listen, and to think upon the personal stories that you uncover. Each prioritize an examination of their surroundings, which attain a kind of photorealistic pastoralism, playing with light and dark like paint on a canvas, across lichen-coated rocks, teeming flowers, and encroaching greenery. The experience is more like strolling through a gallery than segwaying between plot-points.
2015 was a big year for games that want you to spend more time by yourself and to consider more deeply. Rapture proved to be an impressive meditation on intentionality, on powerlessness, and agency. It’s this that elevated it. It seems only right Rapture’s smaller sister in Dear Esther be delivered to the same people that were able to appreciate it when it came out last year, and vice versa.