Made by developer “The Astronauts” formerly of People Can Fly (Bulletstorm), The Vanishing of Ethan Carter prides itself on no hand holding, tutorials or action segments instead focusing on first-person exploration with a horror vibe, super natural elements and puzzle solving on occasion.
The protagonist is detective Paul Prospero who has come to Red Creek Valley after being summoned by a kid called Ethan Carter to investigate the strange going ons in the area. Paul has super natural abilities, as he finds clues and evidence he is able to visualise what happened in the form of flashbacks.
These flashbacks are triggered by finding certain events, very early on you find a train carriage, a persons legs and soon after a body by investing the carriage you find an item is missing and a vision appears that gives you an idea of where the item is. Once you find and return the item it to where it should be and moved the train, going over to the dead body and interacting with it will spawn some memories which you have to organise in the correct chronological order, once you’ve done that the scene will play and show you what happened.
Alongside the exploration this puzzle solving is a core part of the game that’s fun and interesting, it promotes exploring and once you get going in the game and know what you’re doing it flowed well between sections.
When you start a new game the first thing is says is “This game will not hold your hand” and it doesn’t at all. In the first area you walk out of a tunnel with a train track and that’s it, you’re just left to look around and if you don’t do it immediately you will miss elements of the game very early on.
I feel its one of those games that you have to know what you’re getting yourself in for otherwise it is quite easy to get lost or end up in a location further along than you actually should be in compared to where you need to be for the story which could be frustrating for the player. It is an exploration game so looking around is not only encouraged but its necessary to progress.
Something I liked about the presentation (although possibly unintentional) was when you’ve finished a section a trophy unlocks, it seemed like a smart way of letting the user know to move on without putting up a big sign or changing level. With that reference point you can tell if you should keep looking around or go elsewhere.
The transition from Unreal Engine 3 on PC to Unreal Engine 4 on PS4 has been been incredibly well done, it looks stunning, it really does. The level of detail, great image quality and lighting makes you think this is how games should always look, the art style is very good too which complements it nicely. A visually wonderful game that runs well on console too.
For a story-driven game I thought the tale of Red Creek Valley and the fate of the Carter family was told well with the flashbacks, use of newspapers clippings and other notes combined. I was expecting more in the way of “horror” elements and scares but instead its got this creepy overtone and atmosphere to it which I liked a lot. Theres no-one around, at all which makes it seem more likely that something (or someone) is going to pop out at any moment.
If you know what to do the game probably isn’t all that long but some of the puzzles will take a while to work figure out as well as exploring areas, finding items and completing the flashback segments, when you get into it and start looking around there is plenty to explore and it will take you some time to do so.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a fascinating game that had a vision I thought was well executed and incredibly enjoyable, its atmosphere and story telling are very good and taking out the action scenes for exploration and puzzles results in an intriguing mystery game. As I said above I think you need to know what you’re getting yourself in for but I definitely think its worth playing and its very certainly very enjoyable not to mention it looks fantastic too.
Formats: Playstation 4 (Played), PC
Developer: The Astronauts