Dark, ambiguous and HP Lovecraft-like, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a story about a young boy named Ethan and the mystery surrounding his disappearance. A photoreasltic first person exploration simulator, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a horror adventure game developed by The Astronauts and first released in 2014 using Unreal Engine 3 for PC. It was then re-released on PC and on the PS4 with the unofficial suffix of “Redux” added to it since the game was remade on Unreal Engine 4. The game has finally graced the Xbox platform after it was released for the Xbox One in January of 2018.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is first and foremost a story driven game. The story, that starts off with our character, Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator receiving a letter from a young boy named Ethan Carter about mysterious events happening in his hometown of Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin. Intrigued by this letter, Paul set’s out on a journey to Red Creek Valley and to uncover the mystery of the vanishing of Ethan Carter. The story is influenced by a lot of classic horror films and by the works of HP Lovecraft yet has it’s own little flavour to it which sets it apart. It pays homage to them but doesn’t blatantly copy them and use their tropes. I won’t talk much about the story because it truly needs to be experienced for yourself and is the bread and butter of this game. Personally, I absolutely enjoyed the story and it really left me thinking at the end, which is something that is hard to do but when done right, is one of my favourite ways of ending a story.
I barely touched upon the graphical fidelity of the game in my opening paragraph by calling it photorealisitc. In my opinion, it is one of the best looking games I’ve played, with so many moments that would make for amazing photos and wallpapers. The realistic look of the game was achieved by using Photogrammetry which is a technique in which multiple photos of the environment are taken and then put in the game engine to recreate them. This same technique was used in EA’s Star Wars Battlefront that came out in 2015. Since the game features a lot of exploring and walking around, the gorgeous visuals really help alleviate any feeling of boredom because of the scenery that you get to enjoy. And all of this is achieved without any loading screens that would’ve pulled you out of the immersion. While the game did originally have an issue with minor stutters whenever you would walk into a new area, it has since been fixed with the Redux release of the game..
Speaking of immersion, the audio is also top notch in the game. From the gentle blowing of the breeze to the slight bustling of the leaves in the wind, to the flapping of wings of the birds that you might spook while walking around, it all feels extremely natural and adds immensely to the atmosphere that the game is trying to set. Not to mention the ambient music that further adds to the atmosphere and perfectly sets the tone for what is happening on screen.
The gameplay is quite simple, you walk around exploring the town while solving various puzzles either by finding the proper item or answer by picking up on the various hints that are given to you or, by using a special power that allows you to rewind time and watch events as they unfold to piece together the story of what is happening. The game tells you the story through the gameplay and by making you interact with the world that has been built and it does so masterfully. The best part of the whole experience is that the game does not hold your hand. I mean, the game literally opens with the line “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand” and I’m glad that it doesn’t do that. It lets you explore and experience things at your own pace, makes you figure out the answer to the puzzles by making you piece it together by yourself which really just adds to the ambiguity and wonder of the experience.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a beautiful narrative experience that every gamer must experience for themselves. Its visuals, sound and gameplay are elements that are used masterfully to tell the story of the game. I highly recommend that you give this game a shot and see for yourself how intriguing and gorgeous this game is.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is out for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC for $20.