REVIEW | "Ethan Carter" Unfolds A Haunting Mystery
For awhile the phrase "walking simulator" has popped up in the game industry, where the premise involves the player to walk around an area and find clues to why you are there. Titles likes Elegy for a Dead World, The Stanley Parable, and Gone Home all have taken this situation and transformed it into a memorable experience, which leads me to prefer giving these games a more suitable category: "story-hunter," as what you discover in your experience helps to unfold the tale, along with the who's, what's, where's, when's, and why's of how this certain scenario came to be.
The Astronauts' The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one such title, not only giving way to a very good story, but also letting the players lose themselves in the world they're surrounded in.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has you taking control of Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator who was receiving letters from a young fan. One day he decides to travel to Ethan's hometown of Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin, now a lifeless desolate area. With little time to spare Prospero must search the woods and empty homes to figure out not only where Ethan is, but what had caused an entire city population to vanish.
Upon entering the town the first thing you'll notice is how beautiful the worlds are. Using the Unreal Engine 4 The Astronauts have crafted a game space that looks nearly photorealistic. The way the tall grasses and trees blow in the wind, how the lake waters bounce upon the surface, and the detail put in to how the old homes are rotting are staggering. It's clear that these former founding members of People Can Fly can make an indie game and still give it that AAA-quality polish that they were able to do with their past company. It's fortunate then that the game allows you the opportunity to explore the world, as there's quite a bit to discover when you roam about aimlessly through the trees. (Without spoiling anything, a moment that will find out high above the clouds will certainly take your breath away.)
Controlling Prospero is fairly easy, as his only options are to walk, run, duck, and interact with the areas. This makes The Vanishing of Ethan Carter a breeze to play through, as the challenges come in the form of puzzles that will pop up in the area. Rearranging the rooms of the Carter home respectively, putting events of a murder in chronological order, and chasing an astronaut through the forest are just some of the things that the game will task you to do in order to get closer to solving the mystery of Red Creek Valley.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is rather the Point A to B-fashioned game. Though there is an open world vibe to the Wisconsin town the object of the game is to uncover the tale, and while there is no real guide to doing that (just some simple trial & error stuff) it's somewhat simple to figuring out how once you've concentrated your time with the task at hand. While playing, there's always the feeling that something is off with the town, as every step you take brings you closer to danger. However with the exception of some jump scares that appear in an optional puzzle section there really isn't anything that frightening that'll be showing up onscreen. (Even the jump scares you can kinda see coming a mile away.)
Running at roughly four hours The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a short experience. To some that may be a bit of a disappointment, but at the same time the game delivers what it set out to accomplish: to tell a ghostly tale of a missing child and the mysterious town he resided in. No filler and no exposition to stretch out the tale. Just a good straightforward mystery that'll help kill some time for a few hours.
- Beautiful worlds
- A somewhat unique mystery
- Haunting atmosphere knows how to keep you tense
- Relatively short runtime
- Not as scary as it could be
With its gorgeous visuals and a good narrative that requires some snooping to unfold, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter proves to be a worthwhile mystery to dive into. While your campaign may run shorter than most, every moment you've spent traversing the Wisconsin landscape will be worth your time and patience.
FINAL GRADE: 8.2 (out of ten)
PS4 review code provided by Evolve PR. Originally published on the ESH EGMNOW page.