The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Gameplay 8
Graphics 9
Sound 9

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter offers the perfect blend of immersive storytelling, atmospheric music and jaw dropping visuals. The gameworld is not just beautiful, but also compelling to explore. I would have loved it if the world was a bit more interactive and the whole experience slightly longer, but overall the game delivers on all its promises. It is also best experienced without knowing exactly what you are getting yourself into, so don’t be tempted into ruining any surprise for yourself before playing.

Gameplay: The supernatural talents of the protagonist allows for some interesting, but not too taxing, puzzle solving.

Graphics: The use of photogrammetry technology means that the game looks phenomenally detailed.

Sound: The soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful although the voice acting has a few rough patches

Summary 8.7 Outstanding
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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Developer: The Astronauts | Publisher: The Astronauts |Release Date: 2014 | Genre: Indie / Adventure | Website: Official Website | Format: Digital Download

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter invites players to step into the gumshoes of one Paul Prospero as he investigates the sinister happenings of a place called Red Creek Valley. As Paul arrives at this secluded corner of Wisconsin, he reveals that it was a letter from a boy named Ethan Carter that prompted him to make the trip. Apparently Ethan is in great danger and, thanks to his detective skills veering into the realm of supernatural abilities, Paul might be the only person that can save the young lad.

Paul might be a detective, but he left his gun at home for this case, so don’t expect to be doing any shooting. It’s just as well though, as it soon becomes apparent that there aren’t a lot of folks left breathing in Red Creek Valley. After some traps to make you feel welcome the game reveals the first of many bodies and this is where you get to experience why Mr. Prospero was Ethan’s first choice for help.

As you explore the surroundings of each murder scene you uncover clues and objects related to the dastardly deed. Each object that Paul examines displays a string of words which he associates with it giving a nice insight into how he arrives at certain conclusions. Other objects displays a jumbled mess of the same word, which requires you to rotate your viewpoint until they all align and point you towards the location of the specified object. It’s a unique system that allows you to feel invested in the crime solving without having to resort to tedious pixel hunting. Discovering all the clues related to a crime allows Paul to demonstrate his second gift, which is the ability to interact with the dead.

Touch a corpse after mapping out the crime scene and a series of ghostly figures appears, depicting various scenes leading up to the death of the victim. Your job is to examine each scene and then assign a numerical value based on where you think it lies chronologically in the last few minutes of the victims’ life. After tagging all the scenes you can view the playback of these scenes to see if you were right and what actually went down. If you made a mistake the playback stops and you get another chance at tagging the scenes, so there aren’t any real penalties involved. There are a couple of these death scenes to solve, but they are not the only head scratchers in Red Creek Valley. I don’t want to reveal too much though, as the focus of this game is very much on exploration and discovering its mysteries for yourself. The less you know about this game the better, as it is quite linear and there is very little replay value.

One of the standout features of the game is without a doubt the visuals which is genuinely impressive. Red Creek Valley was created using photogrammetry technology and the result is environments that look damn near photorealistic. The amount of detail in the gameworld is nothing short of amazing and I found myself stopping constantly just to soak in the atmosphere or admire my surroundings. From sunlight filtering through tree branches that are swaying in the wind to the reflection of clouds in a tranquil river, almost every scene in this game is a mini work of art. I spent so much time gawking at the scenery and taking screenshots that my version of Paul Prospero might as well have been a tourist and not a detective. It should come as no surprise though as the developers previously had a hand in creating Painkiller and Bulletstorm, both titles known for outstanding visuals.

Although the gameworld is not that large and not quite as interactive as I would have liked, there is plenty to see and do before the mystery is resolved. My advice would be to take your time playing the game as you probably won’t return for another go after finishing it. At $20 the game is reasonably priced for what it has to offer, but if you measure value for money based on the time it takes to finish a game then The Vanishing of Ethan Carter will probably leave you feeling short changed. It took me about five hours to complete which, as I mentioned earlier, included a lot of scrutinizing the environments. It is easy to miss a lot of interesting things if you rush through the game though, so slowing your pace comes highly recommended.

Backing up the beautiful visuals is a haunting soundtrack that really hammers home the feeling of eerie desolation you experience in Red Creek Valley. The music really adds to the atmosphere of the game and helps to immerse you in the experience. In fact, I’m listening to the original soundtrack while typing this review, which is always a good indication that the music struck the right chord. The main theme song in particular is a great tune that sound like it could have come straight out of a Silent Hill title. The sound effects are good and for the most part the voice acting is pretty good too. Some of the performances sound a little flat in places, but nothing that detracts from the experience too much.

Although The Vanishing of Ethan Carter can be eerie at times and there is certainly an air of malevolence about some of your surroundings, I wouldn’t call it scary. This is partly because the game takes place predominantly during the daylight and mostly in outdoor environments. It is also hard to feel unsettled by your surroundings when everything looks so beautiful and picturesque. The game does go for a foray into some dark, underground mine tunnels where the atmosphere changes completely and a few jump scares are thrown in for good measure. The first time this occurred I nearly jumped out of my seat (and the second, and the third) so consider yourself warned. The developers cite H.P Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler and Algernon Blackwood, which should give you an indication about the type of vibe that they wanted to achieve for this game. They certainly succeeded for the most part and there is definitely more to this game than what meets they eye.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and, while it is very brief, it didn’t feel like any of my time was wasted. There might not be any combat, but this isn’t a simple “walking simulator” and the game doesn’t believe in hand holding either. About the only complaint that I have, apart from the brevity of the experience, is the auto save system. Not being able to save when you want is already annoying, especially for a PC title, but having to wait until the game has decided you have performed something worthy of triggering an auto save is even worse. Dedicated players will probably be able to finish the whole game in one sitting, but folks with limited time or obligations that might require them to step away from their PC when needed will find it unnecessarily restrictive.

If you are looking for an engrossing experience that can be enjoyed at your own pace without getting punished for making mistakes, then you can’t go wrong with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It’s not your typical gaming experience, but the combination of great storyline, immersive atmosphere and beautiful visuals makes it worth a look. It’s not perfect, but it does a lot of things right and provides a thought provoking experience that will stay with you long after the credits has rolled.

System Requirements

  • OS: WindowsXP SP3 or higher
  • Processor: Intel Core2 Duo or equivalent AMD
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: DirectX9c compliant card with 512MB of VRAM
  • DirectX: Version 9.0c
  • Hard Drive: 9 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX9c compliant
  • OS: WindowsXP SP3 or higher
  • Processor: Intel Core2 Duo or equivalent AMD
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: DirectX9c compliant card with 512MB of VRAM
  • DirectX: Version 9.0c
  • Hard Drive: 9 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX9c compliant

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