The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter is a difficult game to talk about, not because it's overly complex, although it is strange, but because to do so would ruin a lot of what makes the game special. For those who haven't heard about it, The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter was released last year for PC, garnering positive praise, you can find our review here. It's now available for PS4 and I can't be happier that the title has come to the console.
The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter is a narrative experience, as the game’s opening sequence depicts. The story is an interesting one that will have you guessing throughout and indeed after the credits roll. You play as the detective Paul Prospero, who has been tasked with finding a young boy, Ethan Carter. The journey sends you through sequences of events that detail what has happened to Ethan, each one is surprising and strange but marked by darkness.
Set in Red Creek Valley, you're given free reign to explore the landscape and find clues to aid your investigation. Clues usually form themselves as sequences of past apparitions, forcing you to piece them together in the correct order to work out what has happened. Other events occur that tell you more of the story, making traversing the environment important if you want to get the most out of your playthrough. The puzzles aren't too difficult, but show originality that make them interesting to work out every time. There are no enemies in the game, bar one instance where you can die, so get ready for a slow, albeit thoughtful adventure.
Freedom to explore is the game's biggest asset and will determine which pieces of the story fall into place when and where. It's up to you to find out what has happened and the game doesn't guide you in any way until the very end. The world isn't as open-ended as it appears to be though, it does contain wide open spaces where you can miss certain story elements, but you'll quickly come across the next area of where you need to be. Still, being able to explore at will ties the gameplay together with the story. Instead of forcing the player to watch cutscenes, you instead have to work it out for yourself, disabling narrative dissonance that is present in so many other games.
The setting you are placed in is a fantastically natural one that feels steeped in history. The environment is aided by the game's amazing visuals which are easily some of the most beautiful I have seen. The dilapidated area of Red Creek Valley comes alive through its visuals and level design, both of which compliment each other to create a real setting that is a joy to explore. One of the game's biggest strengths though is its atmosphere. Red Creek Valley might have a beautiful setting but it is steeped in darkness. The game has a sense of unease and whilst it isn't a scary experience, a feeling of dread and sadness create feelings of tension. Special mention should go out to the soundtrack which compliments the tension perfectly. The tracks are sombre and mesmerising, each one befitting the scenario that accompanies it throughout the game.
Unfortunately even with the amazing visuals, the framerate does take a hit at certain points. It's nothing too major but with little going on besides exploring I was surprised when the game started to stutter a little. Another downside to mention is the game's length. Whilst it is certainly an experience where what you put in is what you get out, the playtime is of around five hours and doesn't warrant the price tag of £15.49. It's a shame because The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter is a remarkable game that pushes past standardised video-game boundaries. The unifying aspects between story and gameplay work so well in tandem, offering a unique perspective on the plot that will differ between players.
The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter is a short lived masterpiece and is a game that should give the developer, The Astronauts, deserved attention, and recognition. The story is a dark and twisted tale that should leave the player with thoughtful consideration once finished. With interesting gameplay mechanics and a fantastic score The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter would be the perfect package, if it wasn't for the hefty price and minimal length. That being said, players looking for a unique game that strays away from typical gameplay devices and plot, should consider The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter well suited to their needs.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter will have you thinking about it after the credits roll. It's not a perfect package or a long one, but the short time you spend in Red Creek Valley will be mesmerising.