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Game Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Jenise Mass, Staff Wrtiter

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a 2014 game made by a small and lesser known developer and publisher called The Astronauts. If you hadn’t heard of the game, it’s understandable, it’s an indie game not a mainstream one, and The Astronauts were only recently founded in 2012 and they’re not a triple A studio. But with just an eight person crew, this was their first game (and only game) as a development studio and despite its quiet release back in 2014, the game received much critical praise and strong reviews. After recently sitting down and playing it for the first time, I can understand why.

As a first person mystery-adventure horror game, the player assumes the role of Paul Prospero, a paranormal detective as he takes on the case of the disappearance of a young boy named Ethan Carter who went missing in his small town of Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin. Throughout the investigation the player is able to piece together the mysterious story behind the missing boy by using Prospero’s paranormal abilities of seeing into the past, exploring the environments, and figuring out the intricate – and wonderfully crafted – puzzles. What I especially loved about the game was how intimately story driven it is. As the player I felt genuinely involved and intrigued in the story because there isn’t a single moment where you are forcefully taken out of the story for combat or action sequences, cutscenes or loading screens. It’s just you as the player on a continuous first person journey.

The storytelling itself is done wonderfully and it’s pretty powerful and surprising in some places that’s done in very refreshing way as the player. That may be because the game focuses so heavily on allowing the player to be free with the story and telling it through strong tones of mystical and paranormal elements, and it’s environments. One of the first lines of the game is a warning to the player that boldly states, “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand”, and that couldn’t be more true.

There are no hints at what to do. There is no map telling you where to go. The game doesn’t hold your hand because you are literally left on your own as you are placed in an open world where you are free to roam and explore the large and small details of the game’s incredible environments to collect clues and figure out the brilliantly integrated puzzles by yourself. As someone who easily misses things, it seemed a bit intimidating at first, but I thoroughly enjoyed how it made me feel like I was actually a detective on a case, and it was a smart gameplay aspect and intense storytelling on The Astronauts’ part.

I also have to acknowledge that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a visually beautiful experience. The different environments range from peaceful to eerie and are eminently immersive and so realistic looking, which is something that took me by surprise considering how difficult it is for smaller, non triple A studios to bust out visually stunning graphics. Obviously they are not on par with the likes of Naughty Dog or Bethesda, but they are impressively close and it’s very clear that a lot of hard work went into making this game, worked out profoundly considering how big a part they play in storytelling.

Depending on how long the player takes to explore, the game’s runtime comes in at about a perfectly paced three hours and by the end of it, all the detective work you’ve done comes to pay off as you discover the truth behind Ethan’s disappearance and understand how Prospero has these special abilities. The ending itself is chilling and leaves you with an eerie feeling, but it’s satisfying in a way that ends the game perfectly, despite how heartbreaking it is.

There are a few gripes that I had. The voice acting is a bit off at times and you can tell it’s just actors in the booth reading their lines, but again this isn’t a triple A game, so production value is a take what you can get situation. There is also a certain area of the game that takes place underground and drags on a bit too much when it requires you to find sleeping bodies while being hunted by a haunted miner.

But overall, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an impressive, brilliantly written and beautiful game and one that I highly recommend for anyone who is interested in mystery and adventure and horror elements to play. It’s a game that gets you thinking and feeling and catches you by surprise, and it’s one that you will remember for a long time.

As of now the game is available to those who have Microsoft Windows (PC) and is a member of Playstation Now for $19.99.

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Game Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter