Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
In the opening minutes of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter I came across a pair of legs that were completely torn from their owner. A trail of blood led me about twenty feet down a path where I then found the rest of the person’s body. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this brutal murder would turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg in my investigation into Red Creek Valley and the disappearance of Ethan Carter. Over the course of the next four hours I’d stumble upon more unfortunate victims and increasingly weird ‘things’ that evoke a tone familair to H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, and many others.
Mere moments into the game Ethan Carter’s tone is set as you, Occult Detective Paul Prospero, step through the woods of an old abandoned mining town. On top of the weirdly peaceful music the sound design features many of the things you’d expect to hear during a walk through the woods. You can hear the wind blowing through the leafs, there’s water rushing from the river nearby, and apparently a woodpecker that’s going to town on a tree. It certainly helps that the game is just beautiful. I can’t remember the last time I stopped so many times to take screenshots in a game purely because I couldn’t believe how good it looked. Even before finding all of the weird things in Ethan Carter, and there’s a lot of really cool stuff, I just couldn’t get over how much this little town felt like a real place. An air of mystery surrounds every location, but there’s just something about the way abandoned buildings tower over you and that Jesus statue outside the church that’s missing some pieces that just creates this mood that’s hard to capture in words. What I mean to say is that there’s a ton of detail in the town and surrounding areas that makes the game feel so much larger than it actually is. It’s the kind of thing where you begin to appreciate the fact that you can read the words on book covers and notes instead of it all just being a blurry texture. Those extra little details go a long way.
The game isn’t just walking around and reading notes either, as much as I do enjoy that aspect of it, there’s a decent amount of puzzle solving and detective work to be done. The main section in the game comes in the form of crime scenes where a body is found in various locations under a number of different circumstances. To solve these murders you have to comb through the surrounding area in search of anything that might hint at what really happened. Sometimes you might need to fix things that are broken or restore power to a machine. Once the area is fully explored Paul’s unique ability comes into play. As an occult investigator Paul’s able to visualize the ghostly images of anyone that played a role in the specific crime. This allows you to view 5-6 apparitions of characters performing different actions and then numbering them in the order in which they occurred. With no tutorial of any kind the first investigation took me a bit of time to figure out, but it felt much more rewarding because of it. I loved piecing things together slowly and figuring out the entire sequence of events on my own. Noticing little details and inconsistencies between the different apparitions can help to create a timeline of events that ultimately helps with the solution. These puzzles aren’t hard, especially after the first one you solve, but they are fun to do. They’re interesting scenes that provide insight into what’s actually going on.
There’s also quite a few other puzzles to solve that get away from the detective work and more into the weird side of things. I won’t go into detail, but each of these sections felt truly unique and helped build a world that I didn’t want to leave. Even after finishing everything in the game it’s the kind of thing where I can’t help but wonder as to what else is out there. Once again these puzzles aren’t challenging, but the lack of challenge is made up for in just how interesting the overall context for each puzzle is.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game of moments. There are some incredible things within that people should experience for themselves and many of which you’ll likely have to see to believe/understand. The story is one that you’ll piece together on your own and, considering the subject matter, it’s one that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Where things go and the way in which the story wraps up is clever and it doesn’t feel cheap. (There’s also a lot of layers to it and there are a number of things I’m only just now thinking about how they tie into the overall narrative.)
It’s hard to talk specifics without spoiling things that I strongly feel should be experienced on their own. There are moments in this game that shocked me, scared me, and even wowed me. Some of which are moments people might see at the beginning or even near the end depending on how you play. There’s a linear story being told, but i never felt like I was being funneled down a straight path. I never felt restraints from where I could go or what I could explore. Even the world barriers are disguised in such a way, thanks to the map design, that it all feels natural.
Typically games like this are one-and-done. They’re short narrative experiences that offer little in the way of replay value. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter differs in that I just want to be in that world and experience what it has to offer. With so many things to discuss it isn’t just over after the credits stop. There’s enough left up to your imagination and enough details in the world that maybe it’s worth it to make a second or third visit. Either way this is one that’ll stick with me for a long time to come.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Detailed world/Great Graphics
- Interesting story
- Lots of cool/weird things to discover on your own
- The 'House' puzzle
- Satisfying ending that leaves a lot to discuss
- Detective segments