Like a good mystery novel, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter drops you in deep from the very beginning. You fill in the shoes of supernatural detective Paul Prospero, who’s apparently hot on the trail of a missing kid, the titular Ethan Carter.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter shares some of the same characteristics that highlighted Dear Esther a couple of years ago. It’s a gorgeously rendered first person exploration game, with lush nature and a bunch of ruined buildings. Differently from ‘Ester, which only had you want around and absorb the story as you basked in the atmosphere, ‘Ethan Carter also has you solving a few simple conundrums along the way.
But really, the biggest draw to this game really is the opportunity to drink in the mesmerizing locales you make your way through during the five or so hours it takes to finish it. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is visually breathtaking, distractingly so at times. And while it would be easy to just praise the design and care to detail The Astronauts certainly took to this game and call it a day – it’s certainly true and all – some aspects of gameplay detract from the overall experience.
Even though this is touted from the very beginning as an open world adventure game that “doesn’t hold your hand at any moment”, you’re still required to complete every single objective within the game world. Sure, while these requirements can be fulfilled regardless of order, they’re still mandatory. And more annoyingly so, a few of them are completely obscured and easy to miss, while the vast majority of these are bread crumbed pointing you towards the right way. It’s a baffling direction that only makes sense if you reach a very specific section that directly sets you on the right way of whatever you missed before that point in the game’s narrative – right at the very end.
In order to get the most out of the story and ultimately reach its conclusion, you have to complete the investigation of a few events that involve Ethan’s disappearance in some way. These require you to look around the environment and activate a sort of sixth sense mode, which highlights are number of hubs that are eventually required to be put in chronological order. All of these puzzles are straightforward, requiring little effort for completion, and very rarely get in your way.
A particular section of the game, though, has you navigating a patrolled maze that forces you to start over if you get spotted. It’s not nearly as annoying as it might seem, it’s a simple maze admittedly, but it slows the pacing down considerably.
And while it gives you plenty of pieces to put a story together in your mind, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter manages to fit in a few surprises once you finally finish all of those objectives. While not mind blowing, the revelations towards the end of this game are a welcome conclusion, giving just as much closure and it opens possibilities for future titles.
As mentioned before, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is absolutely beautiful. Every step you take in this game is screen shot worthy, and even then, it’s difficult for them to make justice. The Astronaut made some incredible use of Unreal Engine’s lighting for this game, and the overall presentation is just absurdly well made and polished. That, coupled with a touching score and some surprisingly decent voice acting, really help give this game the gravitas it sets out to achieve.
Even though some sections of the game really bog it down, independently of their reasons – finding your way around or actually trying to find out what you need to do to complete everything that’s required of you – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is still an enjoyable investigation worth undertaking.