In the last few years in the video game world there has been a shift in the types of games that have been stand-outs from genres that have been around for many years. While we will always have our triple-A titles, no one could have predictedthat an adventure game would have been the talk of the town, and even game of the year for many sites. This proved to us that even an underdog can become one of the biggest successes of our generation. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that will stand in the same league as Telltale's The Walking Dead and be a game worth talking about for years to come. It's one of the most simplistic games I have played in years but it managed to capture my imagination during my time with it.
I was pretty excited to play this game upon its announcement because I was never quite sure what it was going to be. I tried to avoid any kind of news on the game because I already knew I wanted to play it.. It seemed like a horror game, I knew it was open world, and as the title suggests it's a mystery, and I am a sucker for a good mystery story. So when the game finally released, I sat down to ride out the experience and was very surprised with the results.
Right from the start you are told that this is a game that doesn't hold your hand, and immediately I perked up because I really hate all the hand holding games do today. You literally step into the world with little clue as to what to do. The story of Ethan Carter is fantastic, and everything is in service of pushing it forward. You play as a detective named Paul Prospero who receives a letter from a young boy named Ethan Carter asking for help. So Paul travels to Red Creek Valley where Ethan lives, in search for a boy he already knows is missing by the time he arrives. However this detective is not normal. He has a special ability, he can talk to the spirits of the dead and experience visions of their final moments.
The first thing that caught my attention was that the game was a first person experience, immediately making me think of Dear Esther. You never see your character, but you hear his narration as you explore a seemingly abandoned and destroyed town. Unlike Dear Esther, though, there is more gameplay depth. The main function in the game is solving puzzles. The narrative is heavy and the gameplay serves a solely to creatively move the story forward. As you travel through the town and surrounding areas, you see the aftermath of some grizzly murders that occurred. Your task is to piece together the events and find out what really happened by tracking down objects used in the murder and arranging the chronology of events to show you a vision of what happened. This gives you the next piece of the story, and it's a story worth seeing to the end because it will leave you breathless by the time it has wrapped.
When you interact with an object you see words that fly in front of your vision that represent your character's inner thoughts and even these small tidbits help build the story. The puzzles are all fairly easy and only take a few moments to figure out. There's only a short section in some mines that can be frustrating, but overall anyone should be able to solve the games puzzles with little trouble.
Since Ethan Carter is all from the first person, it helps that the game looks gorgeous. The entire map is about the size of a small village in the northwest mountain range, and you are given plenty of opportunities to stand somewhere high and marvel at its beauty, wondering what mysteries lie in the trees. While there are a lot of dark and spooky environments in the game, you will see an even greater amount of picturesque landscapes that are well accompanied by an equally amazing sound design. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is game to behold in both substance and appearance. While the map areas all look rather similar they all look beautiful so more of the same isn't a bad thing.
While the game isn't very long (my finished playtime was around seven hours) the game does a good job of not overstaying its welcome. You are presented with a compelling story that only keeps driving you forward to the end and makes you never want to put down your controller until the final cut scene. While I wouldn't necessarily call this a horror game, I had an unsettling feeling of dread while I played. You spend the entire game alone and mostly silent, which leaves you so tense that even something like the narration kicking in is enough to make you jump. The game also takes some very strange turns that are too incredible to spoil. With the exception of the mines being slower and more frustrating and disconnected than the rest of the game, the only thing you'd want out of Ethan Carter is more story and a few more mechanics to keep you coming back for more.