The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter is a first-person narrative driven mystery game, focusing on exploration and discovery. Having finished exploring here’s what I discovered about the Xbox One Enhanced, 4k compatible offering from The Astronauts.
So booting up TVOEC (The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter) the first thing you’re going to notice is the incredible visual delight hitting you right in the peepers. TVOEC really makes use of the Unreal Engine 4, so stunning was the opening forest section of the game that I wandered the forest for awhile taking in the 4k splendour.
TVOEC is tremendous eye candy all the way through however, not long into the story the lush forest is left behind and you enter dilapidated buildings, murky graveyards and perhaps the biggest waste of the games stunning graphics, an underground mine. What began with me snapping screenshot after screenshot quickly stalled into groans of “Oh look, another shade of brown rock”, I understand the games locations are of course tied into the plot but nevertheless it was still a shame to lose that initial awe solely due to the games setting.
Once you’ve gotten over the splendid visual treats you’ll notice that the gameplay is fairly simple, walk here, walk there, investigate objects and solve puzzles to crack the case. You’re warned when you first boot up the game that ‘It won’t hold your hand’, and it won’t!
Now I accept that exploration is a key part of the game but you’re dropped into the world as Paranormal investigator Paul Prospero with almost zero context for your being there and absolutely no indication of where you’re supposed to go. Surely I wasn’t expected to wander around aimlessly, but that’s pretty much the case. Other than knowing you’re there to track down the titular Ethan Carter, The Astronauts leave you to meander about an open world thats not as large as the cleverly disguised game world indicates until you happen to stumble upon the first puzzle.
I won’t go into too much detail about the puzzles in the game, as they are the only real occasions the game forces you to actually engage in gameplay, and at times The Vanishing of Ethan Carter feels more like a visual tech demo than game. The puzzles aren’t overly difficult but do require some thought and are very well put together. The main stay puzzle in the game takes the form of several snapshots in time, that you’ll need to line up in the correct temporal order to progress in the story. One puzzle leads to the next area and the following puzzle, until the game comes to it’s conclusion, (more on the ending to follow).
The most engaging puzzle is that of the ‘Portal Rooms’, many a time did I consider cheating my gaming butt off. However, I managed to resist and once i’d figured out what was required everything fell into place and I was hot on the trail of Master Ethan. Strangely I didn’t feel an immense amount of satisfaction from solving the puzzles, the satisfaction came from the next slice of narrative and getting one step closer to the truth.
The mystery is what will keep you going from puzzle to puzzle…I hope, everything takes a tad too long to get going, which is an odd thing to say about a game that clocks in at around the 4 hour mark in length. I’d recommend sticking with TVOEC though as the directionless sections are short lived and the ultimate pay off is worth it. While not perfectly paced the story is engaging and at times felt like I was playing an H.P Lovecraft novel, it’s creepy beyond the veil threat hanging over the entire town of Red Creek Valley.
While the game doesn’t hold your hand in terms of gameplay, the player characters narration and summation of the plot is at times heavy handed and boarders on patronizing. The story has several moments that require severe suspension of disbelief but the explanations are irksome, especially once you’ve finished the game and the leaps on faith make perfect sense. However it’s the conclusion of the story, the dare I say ‘Twist’ that makes the game worth playing. The end which I won’t spoil here, casts new light and adds a fresh perspective to all the events you’ve worked your way through.
By the time the credits rolled I’d came to care for Ethan Carter and what he represents. The tragic loss of innocence and playful nature of a child’s imagination is at the core of TVOEC. The game reminds us, or at the very least me that creativity is to be cherished, that we should spend a little less time in the real world and perhaps see what we can create in worlds of our own. As for the fate of young Ethan Carter we’ll you’ll have to buy the game and find out for yourself. I would recommend picking TVOEC next time reality bites a little too hard, and you long for flights of fancy you’d often vanish into before adult life and responsibility clipped your imaginations wings.