The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the first outing from indie studio The Astronauts, which was founded by the original founders of People Can Fly, and is currently planned for PC and PS4 releases. The game is pitched as an atmospheric horror, mystery title with a focus on the occult. It boasts an open world and gorgeous environments.
Players will control the paranormally-gifted detective Paul Prospero as he investigates a letter he received from the titular Ethan Carter. Our intrepid detective must find the boy, realizing just how much danger he’s in after being greeted to Red Creek Valley by a string of grisly murders. As players delve deeper into the darkness of the Red Creek Valley, they’ll become aware of the local Lovecraftian horror that lays claim over the local as the game turns from a pure mystery to a work of fiction that’s meant to cause an unnerving air of discomfort and revulsion. This brand of fear development is where the game differs from the jump scare reliant horror we have so much of today.
There are two things that will jump out at players upon their first encounter with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter:
First, Holy crap this game looks freakin’ beautiful. As beautiful as a game filled with horrific murders and a resident Old One can be. This is due to the photogrammetry method of creating and texturing 3D objects. Using lots and lots of photos to create photorealistic textures as opposed to the somewhat repetitive artist made assets, The Astronauts have made a visual feast for the eyes.
Second, this game looks like it has lifted a lot from Murdered: Soul Suspect. The detective with powers related to the paranormal, the visual effects relating to those powers, and even the weird swirling text font for investigations are all virtually ripped straight from it. There’s so much here that was taken from such a bad game.
Well, the first thing is obvious to anyone with eyes, but don’t let the second alarm you. Murdered: Soul Suspect was an extremely interesting premise that had some of the poorest execution I’ve ever seen in a functioning video game. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter may have come afterwards, but the similarity is simply due to The Astronauts assimilating what was done well and rejecting what failed before. For example, Murdered: Soul Suspect had virtually no detective work, no real mystery solving (or even a real mystery for that matter), and revolved around clicking on everything or just the most stupidly obvious choices until things happen. Everything was handed to Ronan O’Connor, whereas players in control of Paul Prospero actually have to use that stuff between the ears to get things things done. The deceased don’t just spill their guts to you when you encounter them, you actually have to become more in sync with them to obtain information.
Aside from being more intellectual than the dumbed down experience Murdered: Soul Suspect was, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter also surpasses it in another major way. The story is placed in an open world where players can take things in the order and manner they see fit. This is a vast improvement over being shuffled along a series of corridors with a predetermined order being force upon you. That’s especially true for a game that revolves around solving mysteries, being forced into that order limits what can be done and doesn’t allow for any real “mystery” game play.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter seems to be a “weird fiction” game told through a pulpy detective story done right. If that’s your thing, or you just enjoy gorgeous looking games, then check it out: The PC release is slated for tomorrow on Steam, September 25. Also, be sure to keep an eye on The Game Fanatics for our upcoming review of it.
To whet your appetite, enjoy this disturbing trailer. Needless to say, there will be some graphic violence: