The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was “weird fiction” pulp done right, and it looked amazing. If it were a dame that had walked into my office I could safely say she was a looker. She had legs that went on forever too. I assumed control of the paranormal P.I. Paul Prospero, a burned out detective that’d seen too much, and investigated a letter from Red Creek Valley. A letter sent by one Ethan Carter. As I entered the sleepy little podunk I was greeted by a grisly sight. Ethan Carter was in danger, and I was his only hope.
“This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.” the game claims on my first foray. We’ll see about that.
I noticed it immediately: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was nothing short of eye candy. I walked across a bridge. It offered a sweeping view of the valley. The vast area was covered in foliage and loosely peppered with buildings in various states of disrepair. Such a gorgeous natural environment housed these gruesome crimes and long abandoned, burnt out homes. I couldn’t explain. It tinged the air with something foul.
The Astronauts have shown developers how atmosphere and tension should be developed. I’ve never felt so uneasy while simply explored an area. The music, it was like I had wandered into Twin Peaks. It was eerie and with the surreal combination of nature, violence, and emptiness, that eerie music created an oppressive dread. That sense of dread only grew more palpable as I advanced further into the story. It was thick and clung in my chest like excess mucus mixed with smoke. Suffocating. I felt on edge. At several points the sound of Propsero’s voice suddenly cut through the white noise, musing to himself, sent a jolt through me. “Damn, they got me.” I thought to myself after each start. The game was preying on my expectations and previous experiences. It was textbook execution.
The game play I had seen in the previews was what drew me to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. There’s a romantic flair to the whodunnit that just hadn’t been captured before. From the example I was shown, it looked to capture that feeling where Murdered: Soul Suspect had fallen short. “Ronan O’Connor can go take a long walk off a short pier for all I care” rattled in my head as I began to piece together my first crime scene. There was virtually none of the handholding of that other abortion while I recreated a gruesome murder involving a train.
“I…like this. I like this a lot.” The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was delivering what it promised and I wanted more. I’ve never been so happy to see that the murders continued. The game play kept pace, but then something abrupt happened. One of the murders was too simple, too straightforward. Then another, the last. “Dammit.”
The game play itself stayed the same, but the solutions had been child’s play. I have to dock them a bit for this. The promise was there and the premise was shown to work. They’d just slid into the “that was obvious” rut that Murdered: Soul Suspect was born into, left to die in like an unwanted child. I suppose not everything has to be drawn out. Sometimes murders can be straightforward, but that’s just not fun. I guess magic can only stay special for so long. Then reality sets in: It can’t all be gold.
I thought I was finished, but I had missed things. Vital things to wrap this case up. Luckily there was a map at one point that showed me where to go and what to do, drawn by a child’s, by Ethan Carter‘s, hand. It was almost a little insulting. “Thanks for not keeping your no hand holding promise guys.” I said it sarcastically, but in secret I meant it earnestly. Thank The Astronauts for having the foresight to include it. I had no idea I had missed some of those things, and combing the area without any clues at all would have killed The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for me. Still, it was a little heavy-handed.
After the conclusion of Ethan Carter‘s story, I was satisfied.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter delivered, made me feel a kind of fear that had been foreign to me for so long. It didn’t throw skinless zombie dogs at me or triangle headed manifestations of guilt. The Astronauts didn’t need those things. They had their own tools. Good tools…proper tools. The mystery solving was a strong point, it just couldn’t keep pace the entire game. The worst of it was at least as good as the best Murdered: Soul Suspect had to offer. Very little replay value, a victim of its genre there. Unless you like wandering beautiful landscapes and grinding a story you already know all the answers to.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is recommended highly. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s a great game.
We received a complimentary copy of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for the purposes of this review, which was conducted on PC.