7 – Dear Esther
The oldest game on our list, Dear Esther sees you exploring an island in the Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland. And exploring is essentially all you’ll do. There are no puzzles to solve or enemies to fight. This is the game that probably comes closest to living out the name “walking simulator.”
However, the exploration is more than enough to carry the experience. As you walk around the island, through fields and ruins, an unseen narrator — you? — recites from a series of letters written to his wife, Esther. We learn bits and pieces about their life together, and how it ended, with Esther’s tragic death in a car accident. Each playthrough of the game reveals more information, as the letter fragments read by the narrator differ every time. The more you explore, the more you’ll learn about these people — but the more questions you might have. Dear Esther is a beautiful look at grief, and, like its sister game, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, it’s a sight to behold, as well.
6 – Asemblance
Asemblance is dark, a little spooky, and a real trip. You wake in a futuristic test chamber, and you’re introduced to an A.I., which asks you questions that seem innocuous enough. However, it becomes clear pretty quickly that all isn’t what it seems. Before you is a large room that can transform based on your memories — first it’s a forest, then an office, then an apartment. Finding your way through each memory requires you to identify important objects in each environment in order to bring about changes that lead you to the next memory.
Though the game is brief, there are so many layers, so many tricky-to-find endings, it’s worth multiple playthroughs.
5 – The Stanley Parable
Another critically acclaimed classic, The Stanley Parable forces us to question the very nature of games themselves. You are Stanley, a bored office worker who suddenly finds himself all alone in the building. Well, all alone aside from the omniscient narrator. As you progress through the game, the narrator tells you what Stanley does next. However, you are free to ignore the narrator and follow your own path. This annoys him to no end, and he continually adapts to try and get you back on his desired path.
We’re forced by the nature of the game to deal with the notion of free will. After all, we can choose to do what we want in the game, but really, we’re restricted by what the game designer has decided to allow us to do. The Stanley Parable is a hilarious, insightful game that’s well worth the many playthroughs required to see all its multiple, bizarre endings.
4 – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
A missing boy, a small, quiet town, and a psychic detective. In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, you play the role of Paul Prospero, a private eye with the ability to reconstruct past, high-emotion events using your psychic powers. Searching the beautiful landscape for the eponymous Ethan Carter will require you to piece together multiple crime scenes, reconstructing them in order to trigger Prospero’s power. Crime-scene-as-puzzle is an interesting take on the otherwise-standard detective genre. As with any puzzle, there are moments of frustration, particularly when you know what the answer must be, but you’re stuck on how to find the key item or information you need to proceed. But also like with any puzzle, the moment you make the discovery and find the solution, the reward is well worth it.
Though the game was made by a relatively small team, the graphics are stunning, especially for a game that is now a few years old. Definitely worth checking out.
Click on thru to page three to finish our list…