The first person perspective in gaming is typically attributed to the shooter genre, while most adventure games are relegated to the third person perspective. After first releasing on PC last year, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter goes again the grain however by using the first person perspective in tandem with tone and atmosphere to create a serene and yet sometimes dark environment to explore, while looking better than ever now on PlayStation 4.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a very story driven game, but one that interestingly enough does not have an abundance of dialogue. The game centers around a paranormal investigator named Paul Prospero that travels to the now abandoned town of Red Creek Valley after receiving a letter from young Ethan Carter, who has gone missing. Upon arriving in Red Creek Valley, a seemingly grounded at first set of mysteries unfold which all surround the larger story found within.
The story found in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is quite unique and intriguing, though certainly not a masterpiece. In a way, it almost feels like how Shadow of the Colossus had basically nothing going on outside of the boss battles, but still had gorgeous environments that you want to explore otherwise. In fact, just like that game, the ending features a plot twist that completely turns the story you experienced throughout on its head.
To reach that ending, there are only 10 mysteries to solve that range from murders, a portal puzzle, a maze, and even a chase. Within most of these, you will have to search for items in the general vicinity, and you will be able to find most items of interest without much problem. By walking close enough to one, the item will highlight and then will remain lit up for future reference when scouring the respective locations. While finding each of the game’s mysteries can be quite difficult, most of the actual crime scenes are pretty simple to navigate in this manner and with a keen eye for details, you shouldn’t have much trouble.
A little more difficulty and thought is brought into the equation when there are additional items that need to be found. In this case, the word for what it is will flash on the screen multiple times and as you move the camera, they will move further apart or closer together. Upon getting them to form the one word, you will get a vision of where that missing item is, which you must then go look for based on the clues in the vision. These are done sparingly in the game, but still add a little extra kick to most mysteries by adding an additional search element.
The murders that you must investigate and figure out stay rather realistic overall, but the methods through which you solve them take a turn to the supernatural. Through finding items and placing some of them in certain places, the player will eventually see recreations of the scene, which you must put in order chronologically.
At first these might seem a little daunting, but the disappointing part is that they almost feel too easy after you do the first one. However, one can use trial and error to solve them relatively quickly, with the last few literally being in the order they are laid out on the map, which felt lacking for when they should have increased in difficulty.
While the game offers very well crafted puzzles and mysteries to solve, there is one in the game that is nothing more than tedious. This mine maze is good for its addition of a true level of horror to the game, but it can be so frustrating due to the confusing map system and hard to find items, in this case bodies. With every one of the 10 areas needing to be solved to reach the game’s ending, this is completely unavoidable and the only major misstep in this otherwise well thought out game.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter allows players to explore a somewhat limited area, but it can still be hard at times to find all of the available mysteries to solve. However, even with it taking a little while to find some locations around Red Creek Valley, the game itself is incredibly short overall. If one sits down and plays straight through, the game is around a 3-4 hour experience. The previously mentioned mines maze is honestly the only part that could take awhile, as that grueling experience is time consuming. Otherwise, many of the mysteries can be solved in a few minutes.
While the game is short and on the surface it would seem there is little replay value, the aforementioned plot twist greatly changes that. Upon finishing the game with the full ending from solving every mystery and finding out about that twist, you will almost instantly want to go back and play through again with that knowledge ahead of time to look and see if there are subtle clues in the dialogue or anything.
Toes the line between tranquil and unnerving at many times during the game
The first-person perspective in games are often hindered in some capacity with a weapon or HUD of some sort. However, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter basically gives you a full view of the lush environments that make up the game. The move to Unreal Engine 4 has allowed the graphics to be enhanced quite a bit from its initial PC release, which is exemplified best with the wind blowing through the grass as you walk around this mysterious town.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter toes the line between tranquil and unnerving at many times during the game, which is enhanced exceptionally with the in-game soundtrack. The subdued score meshes perfectly with the quiet and peaceful environments found in the game, which is especially helped with the use of piano throughout. There is even a hint of depression in the music that works well as a parallel to the past events that are being recreated throughout parts of the game.
For those that have played the PC version, even more important than the graphical improvement is the much improved save system. The PC version had major issues where people would play for a long time and look progress in areas, due to a very quirky auto-save system. The move to Unreal Engine 4 however has allowed saves to be tied to the entire world, rather than just specific areas, making it easy to jump back out and back in with relative ease. Even with this powerful engine, there are still a limited variety of locations found in Red Creek Valley, though it manages to fit the desolate and quiet atmosphere of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter quite well.
The problem that still remains however is the lack of more than one save slot. With no side quests to be found, this isn’t a big problem for a single player, but it becomes an issue for people that share a console or want to show off this game to a friend. The short nature of this game combined with the different structure and puzzles makes it a really good game to share with someone else and it would be nice to be able to do so without having to delete the initial game save.
The mystery genre is something that is sorely lacking in the modern gaming landscape and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a great example for why this trend needs to end. Even while very short and including the overly tedious mine maze, the rest of the unique puzzles and superb mood, atmosphere, and music make The Vanishing of Ethan Carter one not to skip on PS4, especially for those that missed out on this hidden gem prior.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
- Available On: PS4, PC
- Published By: The Astronauts
- Developed By: The Astronauts
- Genre: Adventure
- US Release Date: July 14th, 2015
- Reviewed On: PS4
- Quote: "The Vanishing of Ethan Carter may not be a long journey, but the breathtaking visuals and atmosphere are enough to captivate most anybody on their way to solving a number of mysteries that all play a part in the overall story."
- Outstanding visuals and atmosphere
- Perfectly fitting background music
- Puzzle style that feels different
- Excellent plot twist
- Pretty short
- Annoying mine maze