The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of those games where the player is unable to resist being drawn in, fully taking on the role of the main protagonist, fearing for his life as if it were your own.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a first person, story driven, mystery puzzle game, focused on exploration and discovery, set amongst the beautiful backdrop of Redcreek Valley. Underneath the picturesque autumn scenery however lies a disturbing mystery, one which psychic detective Paul Prospero is here to solve, the mysterious disappearance of Ethan Carter.
From the moment the story begins, the game refuses to hold your hand, a feature which I found at first to be quite intimidating. The lack of directions, tool tips or hints, forces the player to wander and explore their surroundings. After some time this ‘hands off’ approach however becomes very freeing, providing the player with the choice of what actions to take and where to go, deciding the sequence of how the story unfolds.
This rarely used approach ultimately comes into its own through its pairing with the game’s 1920’s style private detective crime story. Unlike other mediums, such as novels or TV shows, where the story unfolds regardless of your actions as an onlooker, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter turns you into the detective, under the relentless condition that the mystery will only be solved if you are skilled enough to uncover and piece together all of the clues strewn throughout the town and valley of Redcreek.
Armed with his many years of experience as a private detective and his psychic power to recreate and visualise a scene through psychic visions, Paul Prospero can be likened to a modern paranormalist Sherlock Holmes. An early example of Prospero’s insight and detective abilities appears a short walk from where the game begins.
Upon discovering an old rusty railroad car with blood splattered across its front bumper, Prospero assists you in the examination of the blood, offering possible suggestions like: blood…Animal? Human? Murder? Accident? Leading to the conclusion that the railcar’s hand crank is missing and should be found in order to uncover more about what had occurred.
Although the ‘hands off’ approach with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is refreshing and allows the player the freedom to explore and take the game at their own pace, it can also been seen as a double edge sword, causing issues for players unfamiliar with this style of gameplay.
With zero assistance, other than the somewhat linear route on which the houses and buildings are placed, the player can soon become confused and lost, forced not just to wander and explore but to spend time repeating areas and retracing their steps in search of the next step forward.
Without the interactive, crime scene, puzzle solving element, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter would have a fairly basic storyline driven purely by the player’s curiosity to solve the largest and most important puzzle, where is Ethan Carter?
The intense immersion created by the thought provoking crime scene re-enactments, and the extremely beautiful and detailed game environments, from the gorgeous sunset forest landscapes to the fading gold leaf of the classic novels found within the Carter household, elevates The Vanishing of Ethan Carter to another level. A level where you the player, feel as though you are right there stood alongside Paul Prospero, living out the story, instead of just watching the events as they unfold from afar.
Overall, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an amazing work of art. Although there are other games out there with more intricate storylines, the vast landscape of Redcreek valley is one of the most beautiful and immersive environments I have ever encountered. With its constant air of mystery and liberating refusal to guide you through every obstacle, we can only hope to see more games such as this in the future.