The Vanishing of Ethan Carter – Review
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was one of 2014’s most acclaimed PC titles. Coming from Polish studio ‘The Astronauts’, the game has been placed at the forefront of our minds thanks largely to a push from Playstation, but despite its initial 2014 release, it has taken until July 2015 for it to come to the PS4. Now powered by Unreal Engine 4, Ethan Carter has gone through some significant changes ahead of its console release, but no matter which way you look at it, this murder mystery game captivates the player and challenges their thinking in ways that very few games have achieved to date.
You’ll be taking on the role of Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator who receives a letter from young fan Ethan Carter which leads him to travel to Ethan’s home-town of Red Creek Valley. Paul goes on to discover that the town itself (as tiny as it may be) has now been deserted, largely due to a mine collapse. The home of the Carter’s has also burned down and all Paul can do is investigate what has occurred. Paul learns that Ethan has released a dark spirit known as the Sleeper that is threatening the lives of the Carter family. Ethan, his family, and the Sleeper take centre stage in this first person mystery that contains no combat, and is light on gameplay mechanics, putting both atmosphere and narrative at the forefront.
It’s hard not feel compelled to progress onwards through every key moment in the game. You’ll explore a number of murders of Ethan’s family members as the stories he tells become increasingly dark. The town, so packed with beauty and colour, is so starved of life that you begin to feel as oppressed as those who were living there. You can visibly see the families descent into madness transpire before your very eyes, as paranoia sets in and the world closes in around them.
The supernatural elements persist with Paul being able to relive the final moments of Ethan’s family’s lives. You’ll find yourself piecing the mystery together as you manipulate the environment and uncover secrets that lead to the full story of the particular death. Once all evidence has been explored you’ll enter another reality where you assemble the story and then watch as it transpires before you and in doing so, you learn more about where Ethan Carter is hidden. There’s not a great deal of interaction going on between the player and world, outside of objects that relate to a murder, but there are a few crafty puzzles that vary between the immediately accessible and the ludicrous. The answers to these puzzles aren’t always clear, with some requiring numerous attempts just so that you can learn from your failures what the correct inputs are. Auto-saving is a little unclear, which meant that you will probably became quite uneasy on a few occasions when wrapping things up for a play-through. You will even begin to question how much (if any) progress you will loose when when power down. Giving the players the ability to save their game is a simple solution and one that has the potential to save a few headaches.
Cohesion is the key in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and the melding pot that contains the narrative, the mechanics and the technical beauty of the world is firing at all cylinders to make the game one of the more impressive titles of its ilk. You may catch yourself gazing off into the mountainous distances not necessarily wanting to progress the narrative but just wanting to take it all in. Ethan Carter is a stunning game, and even though the PC release was impressive, The PS4 has taken its beauty to all new levels now that it is powered by Unreal Engine 4.
At times the game can be a little vague in what it asks of you, so you may find yourself stumbling through the world with little guidance. As the game so readily tells you as it opens, there is no hand holding here, you’ll need to learn the many mysteries of Red Creek Valley on your own, but it’s hardly an issue when you get such a gorgeously rendered world before you. There are a couple performance hiccups where it seemed that the frame-rate dipped below its supposedly locked 30FPS setting which struck may strike you as odd, but it is a rare issue was that you will probably only come across a few times.
Some painfully abstract puzzles, and a vague auto-save system aside, it’s near impossible not to find yourself completely immersed in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. The mystery, the suspense and constant feeling of oppression isn’t for everyone, but once you learn the language of the game and the narrative path it is going on, you’ll find it hard to let go of until you reach its conclusion.