The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

This post is a little bit later than what I aim for, for two good reasons.

  1. I got a new job (yay!) which of course affects my game-playing time. Most likely that all posts from now on will come out Sunday night.
  2. Shadow of Mordor and Civilization: Beyond Earth have eaten up a lot of what little gaming time I do have (for that there are no apologies).

“This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.” Well that’s an ominous start to a game. You’re in a tunnel walking into the light, maybe you’re dead. Apparently not as you emerge from the tunnel into the glory of the atmospheric eyeful that is The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. You’ve just exited a train tunnel. The sunlight filters through the swaying trees. You can hear the wind as it rustles the grass. The occasional crow or songbird can  be heard from an unknown direction. I assume you have to follow the train tracks, but instead I go off the tracks to see just how intricate the rock textures are. I hear a slight whooshing sound as a ball of sticks, logs and rusty nails swings past my face and hits the rocks nearby. The. Shit?

It's a view I guess.
Not a cut-scene.

You play private detective Paul Prospero who has come to Red Creek Valley seeking to discover the whereabouts of Ethan Carter, a boy who sent you a fan letter not too long ago. The reason why you’ve come seeking his disappearance is because of his uncanny understanding of the supernatural. And supernatural Paul knows well. You have the ability, under certain circumstances, to see events in the past.  The story is simple, yet interesting as you piece bits and pieces together of what has already happened. It draws heavily from early 20th Century horror literature by Lovecraft or Poe. Not slasher horror, but more the horror of ideas.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an adventure, exploratory, horror mystery in a similar vein to Myst. You wander around the reasonably open world uncovering the events that lead to Ethan Carter’s disappearance. There are a number of puzzles in the game (I won’t mention how many, as that’s a spoiler), mostly centred around the recently murdered members of the Carter family. The puzzles involve recreating the events around the murders including finding all the items involved and correctly ordering the events. There’s other puzzles as well of varying difficulty, though not once did I really struggle with them. The difficult part was finding where the puzzles are.

They weren’t kidding at the start when they said the game “does not hold your hand.” This game took me 4 hours to finish (so not a huge game), but I could have done it in 2 if I knew where I was going or what I meant to do from the beginning. Though this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a game of atmosphere and the best way to absorb the atmosphere is to wander aimlessly. I enjoyed  discovering new areas, even if there was nothing there. What I didn’t enjoy was retracing my steps several times to discover the puzzles I missed at the start because I didn’t realise it was a puzzle. But not a huge deal. Fortunately the world isn’t too big and there is a run button which helps you traverse it faster.

The only real fault of this game is the hideous save system. There is only auto-saving. It could be because of the nature of the puzzles, but I don’t see why they couldn’t have saving in the in-between parts. This wouldn’t be a huge factor if the auto-saving system wasn’t absolutely terrible. It only auto-saves after you finish a puzzle, or when you use an certain old elevator. That’s it. If you spend half an hour looking for a puzzle, then 10 minutes working out that puzzle. Then unless you solve it, that 40 minutes was for nothing. It almost put me off the game, especially when the above happened to me. Later, I found out that one of the autosaves occurs before your entirely complete one of the puzzles, and I din’t realise it was unfinished until the end of the game.

Despite all this, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is amazing to look at. There is a huge level of details in all the textures which are incredibly varied. To give you an idea of the detail: This game is about 2-3 hours long (1 if you decided to replay it), with some good voice acting and a relatively small world. But… it’s a 10GB game, which is huge for its simplicity.

LOOK AT THAT DETAIL!
LOOK AT THAT DETAIL!

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of the most visually impressive games I’ve ever played. It’s incredibly photo-realistic with amazing textures. I won’t deny that I’m a bit of a sap for great graphics.  It is well worth the $20 I paid for it, despite the short play time. I do recommend it playing it all one playthrough, if not only to avoid the save system.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is currently available on Steam for US$19.99, GoG for AU$22.99 and is set to be released on PS4 in 2015.

thevanishingofethancarter_logo_blackThe next review in 3 weeks will be on PAX AUS Games:

 

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5 thoughts on “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

  1. The ending was really really good, though I feel the open-world exploration actually took away from it. This is something you don’t often hear, but I think a more linear path through the puzzles would have been more help the story-telling aspect.

    1. It’s a tricky one. I found myself thinking of the world as if I was actually moving through it whenever I got stuck. And that made the exploration seem better. I only got really stuck once (crossing the river – I didn’t realise I could) and I’ve booted it up a few times since I’ve finished it, just so I can walk from the start point all the way to the church to admire all the scenery.

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