Developed by the Polish Studio “The Astronauts” and distributed by Nordic Games (Who now own the THQ Trademark and many of their games), this game came out on the PC in 2014, and then it was released for the PS4 on July 15th 2015 with the Unreal Engine 4. Since I’m playing the PS4 version, I’ll just say it’s from 2015. So…The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter.
Set in the Autumn of 1973 (due to leaf colours), our playable character is Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator who received a fan letter from a 12 year old boy named Ethan Carter, who inspires him to take a journey to Ethan’s Hometown of Red Creek Valley in Wisconsin. When Paul arrives, he points out what Ethan has said to him…that nothing he witnesses is as it seems. Paul then starts finding murder victims, and has to piece each 1 together, leading to his paranormal powers providing the scenario of what has happened. It then has us asking what Ethan has done to deserve what looks like a family who are in a cult trying to make him a sacrifice to “The Sleeper”, and whether Ethan made it out alive.
Graphics-wise, The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter looks really gorgeous, especially when it comes to its presentation of Nature and dilapidated architecture. It’s a major step up from PS3 presentations, but also not the best that we’ll be seeing from the PS4. The backgrounds look much better than the characters, who still look like they’re from an above-average-looking PS3 game.
Art-wise, the game captures that Northern States, USA/Southern Canadian appearance quite perfectly (It is in Wisconsin after all), and how they present the appearance of damp, decay and ruin is wonderfully done as well. It also contains horror elements within the seemingly normal, but it chooses not to be a Silent Hill or Deadly Premonition/Twin Peaks clone.
What about the level design? Well, it’s an open world puzzler, and you’re free to explore the whole place as soon as you arrive (until you come across closed doors, cliffs, high water, walls and fallen trees of course). Due to the combination of pretty visuals and fitting music, it was a joy to explore.
Gameplay: At the beginning of the game, the player is informed that they will not be held by the hand, and it shows. There are no solid tutorials, and no hints or tips if you get stuck. Much of the game involves freely exploring your environment, and unfolding the story however you may please. Every scenario within the game is either a murder scene that Prospero has to figure out and piece together within a timeline, or it is a surreal scenario that ends up being a metaphor for something that is set in reality. It’s an exploration-based puzzle game with horror elements, that requires you to find the puzzles first in order to advance the story and learn more about what happened here. 1 issue I have about the gameplay itself, is that it’s pretty linear, despite the presentation of an open-world. You have to find out what happened to every member of Ethan’s Family, who are scattered throughout a large area, and until you find them all, you won’t receive the ending.
voice acting wise, The game does well, as all of the voices match the character designs that they’re designated to. It’s not world-class or even memorable, But I have no real complaints about this 1.
In terms of the story, The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter does a good job, as it keeps you guessing and remains unpredictable in its 1st play through up until the end. Is everything as sinister as we make it out to be? You’ll have to find out yourself. At the same time, it’s not a very interactive experience. Paul Prospero is someone on the outside looking in, which can make this game feel lonely if you like your character interactions. But perhaps this is what the developers had in mind.
What about the music? Well, none of it suits the year 1973, but it does suit the sounds of mystery, wonder, awe, discovery, tragedy, fear, and menace. All of which are in this game.
Would I recommend The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter? Yes. I consider it a must-play for the PS4, even if you only ever play it once. It’s far from being a game for everybody. But it’s a game that keeps you guessing up until the end, and that’s part of the appeal to it’s mystery. At the same time, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody under 15 – it’s not exactly Super Mario, but it’s also very different to Grand Theft Auto or First Person Shooters, and at times it can be kinda grim.
Art/Style: ****3/4 (the presentation of nature and decay is wonderful)
Level Design: ***3/4
Voice Acting: ***3/4