I wasn’t sure what to make of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter when I was reading up about what the game was about. The games website describes itself as a first-person mystery game focused on exploration and discovery. The minute I booted up the game on the XBox One I began to question the description, because the music and atmosphere of the game immediately made me fret and dread every step I was going to take. Did the developers trick me, and this was an edge of the seat jump up and scream like a little girl horror game like Resident Evil or is Ethan Carter really what the studio claims it to be, an immersive storytelling game “[i]nspired by the weird fiction (and other tales of the macabre) from the early twentieth century”?
The Story (9/10)
The story is provided within the first five minutes of the game and is done through a narrative from Paul Prospero, which you take on the role of. Paul Prospero is a well known supernatural detective and received a letter from Ethan Carter who resides in Red Creek Valley. The letter which Ethan writes is extremely disturbing as it describes events and things that no one should ever know about, especially not a child.
As you enter Red Creek Valley, everything already seems wrong and there is an atmosphere of dread that is disconcerting. As Paul you explore Red Creek Valley and discover that Ethan has disappeared after a brutal murder has occurred in the quaint little valley. Your job is to figure out what is happening in this valley and find where Ethan Carter disappeared to.
The Gameplay (8/10)
The gameplay has you exploring a vast valley in first person perspective. This can be a daunting task and the game sets the precedent by stating there will be no hand holding even before you start the game. As you take on the role of Paul Prospero, you must truly take on the role of a detective by turning over every single rock, peeking into every corner and using your observation and deduction skills to solve the mystery that is affecting Red Creek Valley. Fortunately, Paul also has a trick up his sleeves, you have supernatural powers that help you see echos of the past which help you piece together any scenes which you discover through your exploration of the valley.
Once you discover a scene, it is your job to collect all the clues and bring them back to the right starting points. After you complete discovering all the clues you can then use your supernatural powers to place them in chronological order to witness the series of events that led to the fateful incident.
The game stays true to its warning and does not provide clues or hints or chimes to help direct you to the answer. There are very subtle environmental nuances that require you to use your observation skills, but it is just as easy to walk right past those nuances without even knowing it is a clue.
A unique setting that is currently only available on the XBox One edition is a free roam mode. This is great to let you explore the amazing environment which The Astronauts have created in the game without worrying about solving puzzles and discovering the storyline that has been setup. While this is a great feature, I’d rather take the time free-walking around Red Creek Valley and just go on a real hike and take on the true beauty of nature.
The Graphics and Sound (10/10)
The Astronauts team does an amazing job with the environment with the stunning and gorgeous locale in Red Creek Valley. The team did an amazing job of creating this amazing backdrop and the subtle touches that have been placed within the environment set the mood that something is wrong in this valley right from the first step through the train tunnel as Paul Prospero.
The sounds and soundtrack help to immediately set the eerie tone in the valley. There were times I was walking through dense brush in the woods, and just the subtle creek of wind blown trees had me on edge and not sure what to expect with the next step. The soundtrack continually had me questioning whether the game was a storytelling game or a horror game, because the eerie atmosphere the music set had me on the edge of my couch and I was positive I was going to sleep with all the lights on in the house tonight.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter does an amazing job of setting the tone for the game from the get-go. The environment, music, sound effects and puzzles really sets a player on edge and makes them wonder if something will jump out with one misstep and end the investigation. The open world that was provided for exploration is gorgeous, and the nuances placed in the environment really lends itself well to the story the team at The Astronauts are trying to tell. However, the open world does lead to long treks and backtracking, because there are so many options that don’t lead to anything, that you will end up backtracking a lot just to get back to the story and the puzzles littered throughout the game. The players lack of rapid movement drags out some of the moments, especially when you are backtracking. Without the hand-holding the game is challenging, but once you figure out the basic controls and what to look for, the puzzles tend to get repetitive as it lends itself to identifying the clues, sorting them chronologically and then watching the scene unfold with your supernatural powers. Despite some of these issues, the game is an amazing adventure and is not meant for the faint of heart, as every lap of water to the shore, or creak of a tree trunk in the wind will keep you on edge expecting some evil being to jump out and tear your face off.