Vanishing of Ethan Carter was released around September 2014, developed by The Astronauts. It was their highly anticipated game, released for Windows and I believe possibly the Playstation 4 (TBA). To be honest, I actually never heard anything about this game. I came across the title when I was watching one of my favorite gamers stream it on his channel. The game is usually labelled as weird fiction and adventure. However, it can also be argued to be a horror game due to some horror elements, in particular during the Mine chapter aka scene 6-7 (depending on how you view it).
For the purposes of this post, I will be referring to the individual puzzles that you solve as scenes. It took me about 3 hours to complete this game. The first 30-45 minutes was mostly spent on tweaking the game’s settings and resolving an issue that I found.
The story begins with Paul Prospero, a detective who receives a letter from Ethan Carter. During the game’s beginning cut-scene, it implies that Paul has a supernatural power or is highly familiar with the occult. As he states “when the police don’t believe, and the priests won’t help you…you call on me.” thus the suggestion of Paul Prospero being a supernatural detective. The only downside to this is that the game never explains what ability he has or how to use it. You just sort of learn how to use his ability while playing.
Upon launching the game for the first time, I immediately hit into a problem. The problem being that the game kept crashing when I tried to start it up. After the second failed attempt at playing the game, I searched on the internet (oh hail Google. It turns out that for most people the reasons that their game crashes is either due to the anti-aliasing and possibly not being fully compatible with previous generation of AMD GPUs. I also happen to be using a AMD graphics card (AMD Radeon HD 6650M for those curious), I turned off the anti-aliasing and the game launched normally afterwards. However, you may need to keep tweaking the graphics settings as you may experience stuttering or lag during your play through. Speaking about the settings, I ended up having to heavily adjust the game’s mouse sensitivity. It was just way too sensitive for me that I ended up lowering it to around 5-10 where it was more manageable for me. I think I had it at around 5 before bumping it up to an 8.
While watching the cut-scene, I was really taken aback by the stunning scenery of the game. The graphics reminded me of Skyrim but it just feels a lot more detailed compared to Skyrim. Bit of an unfair comparison I know. As for the intro cut scene, it was pretty solid. It gives the general idea of the plot before it dumps you straight into the game with no direction or clues.
Since the game does not hold your hand, it can be frustrating to play. I was actually stuck on the first scene. That first scene actually startled me since I was not expecting to have a trap spring up on me. After springing the first trap, I actually ignored the entire scene all together and went straight to the second one without realizing it. I eventually back-tracked and began investigating the area closer before successfully solving it. Once you figure out what the game wants you to do, the gameplay becomes much more smoother. While the game is mostly non-linear, as you are allowed to explore the world freely and solve puzzles in any order. However you may end up having to backtrack, to solve a scene you missed as it is very easy to walk by them without realizing it. This applies to most of the scenes as they are located in locations that are not overly obvious, often away from the path. Most of these locations are extremely spread far apart from each other, thus it is recommended to solve them in order since it is easier that way. Regardless even if you do end up having to trek back and forth in the game, you will end up logging in a few hours into the game; as it is a relatively short game.
On that note, I did find it interesting how each scene often is related to a story that Ethan has written. You will occasionally find notes that give clues on how to solve puzzles. More often than not, you solve the ‘scene’ and unlock the true events by investigating the area for clues. Very rarely you will find a note or listen to a conversation spoken in the past that will aid you. However, upon successfully solving the scene you will find a story that Ethan has written and other objects that relate to the particular story (e.g news clipping).
There are times when the game has stuttered or lagged but it can be resolved by tweaking the graphics settings (usually). There is a website that has various ways to fix the bugs and errors that Vanishing of Ethan Carter seems to have. I just kept playing since those instances were so far in between each other that it didn’t bother me. I think the stutter/lag was a result of it transitioning the next area possibly(?) since it was often near when I was about to approach the area with the scene that needed to be solved. The game does have occasionally long loading times as well, especially when trying to start a new game and during some levels.
In scene 6 (aka the mausoleum scene), I noticed that the camera acted a little odd when you are trying to ‘visualize’ the last moments of the victim. Instead of going to the first re-enactment in your chronological order, it flies into the mausoleum before going back out to follow the chronological order of how you think the events played out.
The game does not have a manual save feature, instead relying on auto-save at certain points. Some players will find this annoying since it does not show when saves the game, unless you have the save messages turned on to see when the game saves. In some cases you will find your progress lost by 30-45 minutes potentially, when you reload your game after taking a break.
The game excels as an interactive narrative, with a fantastic and engaging story. The narrative is supported up by music and ambient sounds that immerses the player. Ethan’s tale revealed to you by various flashbacks, symbolism and imagery that makes Ethan into a very sympathetic child. The ending will most likely cause mixed feelings in people, I certainly had mixed feelings about the ending. On the one hand, I feel like it was a fitting ending for the story but on the other, it felt somewhat predictable.
Long story short: Vanishing of Ethan Carter is not going to be everyone’s type of game. Vanishing of Ethan Carter is best seen as an interactive narrative with detective elements which it delivers perfectly. The game does use jump-scares but it is only during one section of the game. Most of the time, the game employs the use of creating the mood and atmosphere subtly with music and ambient sound. It focuses heavily on exploration and the player’s observation and ability to figure things out on their own. Some explanation of Paul’s ability of how he got it or how to use it would be nice, and not leaving it to the player to figure out. I wasn’t a fan of the horror aspect of the game, not because of the jump-scares but it became frustrating trying to figure out where the main chamber was. The game does seem to have a few bugs that need tweaking but other than my first issue trying to start the game, I did not experience the bugs that other players have.
A quick warning to those who are considering getting this game: there is a character in the game who is small-minded and makes insulting slurs towards the LGBT community.