The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Two years ago saw the experimental release of a new genre of game in the form of Dear Esther, a mod for Half Life 2. It was more than just a game it was an experience, the entire game was designed for immersion, from the voice acting to the audio. It followed your character as he wandered around an abandoned island speaking about another character called Esther. The beauty of the game wasn’t the visual fidelity but the open ended narrative that let your imagination do the work. There’s no right interpretation of the story. There is just your interpretation of it.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a similar foray into a genre that has long since been forgotten. It starts off with a monologue of the protagonist Paul Prospero, a detective with arcane inclination. He speaks about a boy Ethan Carter whose letters piqued his interest in him and he has arrived at Red Creek Valley to find him. Without revealing too much let’s dive into TechArx’s review of the Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
As this game is non traditional in its approach to First Person games we’ll be taking a non traditional approach to reviewing it. Instead of dividing it into Story, Audio and Visuals we’ll be dividing it into Atmospherics, Interpretation and finally a Conclusion.
Welcome to Red Creek Valley:
As soon as the game starts you’re greeted with a warning: “This is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand” and boy do they stick to that warning. As soon as you enter the world of Paul Prospero you can’t help but feel uneasy, the music and the atmosphere is such that you can’t help shake the feeling that there’s something terribly wrong with this place. Astronaut Studios has done a brilliant job with the visuals as evidenced below.
The textures are spot on and the game just looks amazing. We could run it at 60Fps at 1080p with most of the settings maxed out excluding Anti-Aliasing on a GTX580 so rest assured this game isn’t demanding. That however doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful.
Interaction with the world is done using mouse buttons and standard controls follow like Shift for sprint and Ctrl for crouch. What sets this apart from a normal detective game is that it allows you to “Touch” the objects involved in the crime scene for more information. This is your gift as a spirit detective, your ability to glimpse into the other world for clues. Your first use of this ability will be in the immediate area you enter: The Forest.
Do note that it’s entirely possible for you to miss entire sections of the game if you’re not looking hard enough. You have to take time to explore the entire area completely, checking out every nook and cranny for any clues you might be able to find. The first use of your “Touch” will be on the trap in the forest. This is what it being a spirit detective looks like:
This isn’t so great…
We’re getting there..
After the discovery of all traps you’re transported into another plane.This is a recurring mechanic but each time the task you perform, to uncover more of what happened to Ethan Carter, is different. For example sometimes you get an incomplete touch.
This means the you need to discover more clues to uncover what exactly happened to this guy. More than finding more clues it involves finding a certain pivotal object that’ll blow the whole crime scene wide open.
Oh there it is!
Upon finding out which direction the necessary object lies, you’re allowed to look into the nether realm for the surroundings of that particular object, in case of the aforementioned pickaxe it was in total darkness ergo
Thanks a lot spooky ghost realm you’re a real help
Without spoiling too much there are some fantastic scenes in this game that’ll make your jaw drop
The level design is fantastic and varied with big open areas and claustrophobic tunnels. There is a chance you might not get all the scenes in the first try but that’s just the beauty of the game.
The game does a great job with darkness visually.
We can clearly say without a doubt that this game is fantastic in terms of visual fidelity and immersion but what about the interpretation side of things. Obviously we’re not taking these trips to the nether realm for sake of fancy we still need to find the boy. After the visit to the other world you’re usually greeted with a dialog from one of many titular characters in the game and a story written by Ethan that would otherwise be dismissed as childish imagination were it not for the eeriness of these notes.
After discovering all the traps you’re transported to the field of bones. Here you find the first of many stories written by Ethan Carter.
And then you’re greeted with another voice that isn’t your own belonging to somebody named Ed. As soon as he’s done speaking you’re taken to a campsite.
Now the clues are all there as to what happened here, right here in this picture. And this again is why we loved this game so much. You are to piece together what manner of horrific events have occurred in this valley through newspaper clippings, notes laying around and a bit of common sense. You are not spoonfed the story through cutscenes and voice acting. Everything is your imagination and what manner of clues you uncover.
One of many newspaper clippings
As you continue to uncover the secrets behind this supposedly idyllic village you start to realize the brilliance of the game in all its entirety. Soon you find yourself deep inside the mines of Red Creek Village and something sinister lurks beneath the surface.
That can’t be good…
The Boy who Disappeared:
Though the Astronaut game studio is relatively new, the members of the studio itself are veterans of the field and it shows in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Beautiful visuals, extremely well done game design and excruciating attention to detail.
You might have noticed multiple references to Dear Esther throughout the review and that is only because of the fact that this genre has laid untouched for a greater part of 2 years and as such is this game’s only “competition”.
While it’s hard to beat a trend-setter of the genre this game comes pretty bloody close. I have a few qualms with this game (the grass, I mean for some reason I’m obsessed with game developers getting grass right) and the lip sync of the characters with the voice acting wasn’t up to par. That still doesn’t dull the fact that this game is fantastically put together.
If you haven’t played The Vanishing of Ethan Carter yet be sure to pick it up on Steam, it is an experience that everyone must have at least once.
Keep an eye out for more reviews right here at TechArx.
Student. Reviewer. Full-time Procrastinator.