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Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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A haunting mystery from former Bulletstorm devs

Perhaps the biggest surprise about The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is that the developers behind the game were members of People Can Fly, the studio responsible for Bulletstorm; the idea that some of the people who came up with the over-the-top and potty-mouthed first-person shooter would go on to also make this contemplative, supernatural mystery.

It's a beautiful-looking game where players are tasked with finding a missing youngster but are quick to find that there are dark things lurking behind the lovely surroundings.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (PC)
Developer: The Astronauts
Publisher: The Astronauts
MRSP: $19.99/£14.99
Release: September 25, 2014

First up, let's talk about the visuals; The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has some of the most sumptuous scenery I've ever seen in a videogame. The trees, rivers, valleys, and mountain summit look absolutely amazing and this impressive imagery truly helps set the scene.

On the other end, unfortunately, the character models aren't up to scratch -- especially some of their facial animations. However, there's only a handful of characters in the game and their appearances are limited. Vanishing is really about mood, atmosphere, and the mystery behind what has torn a seemingly normal family apart.

Players take control of the fantastically named Paul Prospero, a detective with ties to the world of the occult. He's arrived in Red Valley to find a young boy, the titular Ethan Carter, whom he has been corresponding with. Ethan has the same rare psychic gift Paul does, an ability to see into some sort of nether realm, but now that gift has gotten Ethan and his family into danger.

An ancient evil force drawn to Ethan's powers has awoken and set his family against their own flesh and blood. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has its influences in The Shining, Sixth Sense, and Alan Wake but manages to not be just a pastiche of all of them. Ethan has a love for writing stories and his fiction is bleeding into the real world in interesting ways. 

The crux of gameplay involves solving various murders strewn about the valley. Paul has to use his psychic powers to locate clues, recreate the murder scene, and identify the chain of events that led up to the crime itself. It's rare when a game asks you to do some actual deduction and there's very little hand holding outside of some audio cues and Paul's psychic ability to narrow down the location of clues and vital objects.

Still, once you solve the first crime, the method of completing the remaining cases is pretty much the same: find all of the clues, recreate the events of the murder. What's interesting is that you can solve these cases out of sequence and in fact it's easy to solve the murder of a person that you'll see implicated later on in the game. You'll have to figure out each crime -- as well as Ethan's various story scenarios -- to progress to the end.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is quiet and contemplative game. Indeed, there's long stretches where you'll hear nothing but the beautiful, haunting orchestral score and Paul's occasional musings. It's rare to play a game that's this quiet and determined to let you take it at its own pace. Thankfully, there is a run button that comes in real handy later on in the game if you've missed solving something back at the beginning of the valley.

Each crime takes place in a contained area, so you don't need to do much backtracking, although the final location takes place in the furthest corner of the playing area and you'll have to return there if you have missed something. Gamepad support works just fine and there's no disadvantage to using a controller over a keyboard and mouse.

The only real blemish is a patchy underground area. Despite featuring a chilling murder and an impressive moment torn from one of Ethan's stories, it's also home to a frustrating, insta-fail stealth sequence. Even as a fan of stealth games, a sequence like this feels out of place here. It provides some initial scares but becomes frustrating and something that unfortunately needs repeated over and over again.

While some will find the pace far too slow for their liking or the crime-scene puzzles too simplistic, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter holds up well. Having the story told almost out of sequence makes it even more chilling as you see people slowly turn on each other. The melancholy tale is matched with some wonderful visions to make a game that really sticks in the mind.

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter reviewed by Alasdair Duncan

8.5

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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Alasdair Duncan
Alasdair DuncanContributor   gamer profile

Alasdair Duncan is that bearded, bespectacled Scotsman that covers PC gaming that is not Fraser Brown. A long time Destructoid community member and forum moderator, he covers adventure, puzzle, F... more + disclosures


 




 


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