The Vanishing of Ethan Carter PS4 Review
Publisher: The Astronauts Developer: The Astronauts Genre: Adventure Players: 1
Age Rating: 16+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
When I first started playing The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that it was a game with an excellent story and so it had my interest piqued. It’s well known as an open-world adventure game, and whilst the adventure part is true, TVOEC isn’t exactly what I would call an ‘open-world’, rather just a game with a very big environment.
To be an open-world game, there needs to be lots to do and lots to find in many areas of that world, though the events that take place in Red Creek Valley, TVOEC’s setting, are very much contained, with everything you need to solve each individual event in that one area. Plus there isn’t all that much to do. Whilst you are given the freedom to solve each mystery in whatever order you want to, other than these mysteries, and some other events you can find that delve deeper into the psyche of the young Ethan Carter, there isn’t really much else to do for this game to be classed as ‘open-world’.
Still, what the game has to offer makes for an intriguing and poignant experience, accompanied by some beautifully-recognised graphics that help to bring Red Creek Valley to life, from its flowing waterfalls, blue opaque lakes, Autumnal foliage coupled with the sound of bustling winds to its mountainous regions that stretch for as far as the eye can see. The destination is very picturesque, a landscape painting come to life, and is an eerie contrast to all of the grisly goings-on. Red Creek Valley, whilst full of colour, really has no life to it at all; everything seems creepily still and dead, with crow carcasses scattered about, as well as the dead bodies of the people whose deaths you have to resolve. There isn’t a hint of wildlife anywhere, making the environment hauntingly beautiful, yet cold and isolating, and it all adds to the appeal of the game with its stark contrasts.
The story has received some mixed reviews, with some claiming that it is rather clichéd and others praising its open-ending. Whilst the story is open for discussion, it is still an intriguing journey into the young Ethan’s psyche, and his relationship with his family, one that seems fraught with tension and is the catalyst for the events that occur, and this game is very much about the story.
You play as Paul Prospero, a detective brought in to find young Ethan and unravel the mystery behind his disappearance. As you wander around the environment, you will come across many crime scenes that Prospero has to resolve and the way in which this is executed is especially novel. Located around the crime scene are certain clues and as you inspect a clue, you can see Propero’s trail of thoughts, in the form of text floating out of the objects. Sometimes there might be an item missing from a scene and Prospero has a unique ability in which he is able to pinpoint the location of the item, with multiple words of the name of the item floating about sporadically on-screen in text-form and the player needing to combine all of the words into one, with its final position pointing towards where that item is placed. Prospero will then need to find and place that item where it was originally, fixing the crime scene and then enabling him to piece together what happened by touching the body of the dead victim, one at each crime scene. The screen will change to a bluish hue, with an outline of all of the people who were at that crime scene placed in particular areas – in a still image form of what they were doing – and then it is up to you to put each image into chronological order. Once in order, the scenes play out one at a time, with each ending on Ethan Carter moving on to somewhere else and giving you a clue where to go next.
The way in which the crime scenes are solved is very well put together and you really do feel like a real detective, finding items and using your deductive skills to work out what happened and when. The aim is to solve these scenes in order to follow Ethan’s movements to wherever he currently is, though, unfortunately, the crime scenes do seem to become smaller and easier, hence quicker, to solve as the game progresses, meaning Prospero’s unique abilities are also used less and less, which is a waste of a very creative idea.
There are a few intriguing and varied puzzles, though, again, there is not many of them and the ones that you do find are a mixed bag of creativeness, ranging from vague to obvious, though the focus is very much on the crime scenes, with puzzles being a bonus addition. As with Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, you will mostly be walking around and exploring various areas, and even though there is more to discover here than in the aforementioned game, there is still a very limited amount to do. Given that the game is known as an ‘open-world’ and claims to give you the freedom to solve mysteries in whatever order you like, this is not entirely true, as there does seem to be a definite sense of linearity and players will come to realise that solving each puzzle or crime scene out of order will lead to a lot of frustrating back-tracking as you try to find the ones you missed.
Also, initially I did not know that you are able to pinpoint items by merging the words which lead you in the right direction to a particular item, and I felt overwhelmed when I thought I would need to find an object without any form of help, though a quick look at a playthrough on YouTube helped put me back on track. At the start of the game, it mentions that it “won’t hold your hand”, though some guidance with the controls would have been very much appreciated, as I had wandered off and left a crime scene unsolved and, frustratingly, needed to back-track to it later, and I was quite a distance away. It is still a game that can be praised for encouraging exploration, though something as simple as lack of control instructions can pull you out of the experience when you are wondering what on earth you are supposed to be doing. As complicated as it sounds though, it really isn’t that difficult at all once you understand the controls and realise what you need to do.
TVOEC can easily pull you in and out of its experience in others way too, pulling you in with its narrative, but then pulling you out with long sections of nothingness, only walking about for what seems like hours without discovering much at all. Whilst the game is certainly picturesque, there is only so much that good graphics can offer, and it soon becomes repetitive and tedious wandering around and looking at the environment. There is a section that takes place underground, in a mine, and the beauty of the game is suddenly diminished and becomes very much generic as you focus on solving a very short crime scene and another puzzle that gives even more of an insight into Ethan Carters mind, a puzzle that has you wandering around the mines for an unnecessary amount of time. These moments that relate to Ethan certainly offer some variety in the game play, with these events taking a rather surreal turn, but it can feel out of place at times. Taking into account that the game does analyse Ethan’s state of mind, however, these events could be showing just how out of place he feels in his own life, and it is stated many times that he seems to have his head in the clouds and so this would give these dreamlike events some justification.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has a lot of parallels with Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, with its minimalistic approach and stark contrasts, so if you enjoyed playing that, then this game will appeal, and has the benefit of having just a bit more meat to it. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has some excellent ideas, with Prosperos abilities being a high point and the way in which you solve a crime scene being another. The story is excellent and well presented, and is very much the driving force behind the game and with many likable characters, you truly want to know what happened to them. The ending is open for discussion, and even though it may seem cliched, TVOEC excellently delves deep into Ethan’s mind and how a young boy copes with a family that seems to reject him at every turn and how he lacks any sort of role-model. Coupled with how the entire game is presented, it all comes together in a nice little package.