The fascinating world of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is beautiful, mysterious, and at times, downright creepy and intense. The game has little to no mechanics and focuses on you wandering through a beautifully developed environment picking up clues, inspecting objects, and wandering into the unknown to uncover what happened in this mysterious little town that the game drops you into. For this review, I’m going to try to stay away from too much of the story, as I don’t want to give anything away! Why? Because this game is absolutely incredible. If you love mysteries, exploration games, and beautiful scenery this game is for you. It should also be said that not only mystery fans will love this game, but horror fans as well. The game has an eerie HP Lovecraft style to it that impacts the story, as well as the environment and atmosphere you get from it.
As for the story, all I will give away is that within the first few moments of the game it is explained to you (through a basic mechanic) that you are a psychic with the ability to see into the past through objects, allowing you to hypothesize what happened somewhere. You have been called into the town by a young boy, in order to investigate some strange things that are happening. It is explained that normally an investigator like you wouldn’t bother to check out something a little boy sends you, but some things are mentioned in the letter you received that only someone else with the special ability you have would know. That’s all I’m going to say about the storyline. If you would like to find out more, check out the Wikipedia or visit the steam store page for more information. By giving away too much, I believe I may ruin the experience.
At first, I thought this game would be nothing more than exploring an environment in order to piece together a story. I did not expect there to be an intense element of horror that only occurs in certain environments. So, it definitely threw me off guard when a certain creature in a certain area decided to pop out in front of me after I thought he/it wasn’t going to do anything. I assume the screen fading to black and I falling to the ground was probably me dying. Those suspicions were later confirmed when I respond from my last save. You will have to be brave and venture into some dark areas in order to find clues that will help you progress through the story. However, I do not classify this game as a horror game, as you don’t have any real reason to run or hide … most of the time. The focus of this game is on the story, exploring the environment, and discovering clues from objects. Monsters and terror are not something that the game is concerned with pushing on you. Now, that said, there are occasionally moments of danger and fear that only add to the story.
In just the first few minutes of the game I was absolutely blown away by the graphics and textures that were used. While the ground textures may not be all that great, a lot of the objects have a huge amount of detail added to them and the physics engine that deals with wind is absolutely awesome. Now, while this game may not be top of the line in graphics, this is as beautiful as the Unreal engine will ever get. There was definitely a lot of attention put into it.
As far as the pros go, I really enjoyed how large the environment was and yet, at the same time, remained fairly contained. There is a vast number of clues and objects for you to look at, pick up, and inspect to help connect different situations and smaller stories that build up and add to the larger scheme of the game. There’s also the occasional note to read… which is always fun (sort of). From the very beginning, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter really does have a sense of mystery to it, as the town that you are in has no one in it and you were the only one walking around. For using an older engine the game is absolutely beautiful, I hope that this game in the future show support for some of the super high resolutions that will be staying with this next generation of graphics cards. This game looks absolutely amazing in full 1080p at 60 frames a second, but I can see it being absolutely mind-blowing if this game would render at 4K and downscale the 1080p.
I absolutely loved how in the open the game feels so peaceful and there is a calm sense of serenity in the air, but the mystery still lingers. With that in mind, wandering into a different environment such as the mines, mausoleum, or a dark church building can throw that sense of calm and serenity out the window and make you feel as if you’re in an actual horror story. However, this isn’t the kind of horror story or game that has you constantly running from enemies and hiding. The game at times does present danger but it never presents anything that will give you a heart attack or send you running and screaming with a wet pair of pants like Outlast.
I really have to force myself to be critical of this game when it comes to the cons. The game is fairly short if you try to fast track it and play through it as quickly as possible. However, if you go into this game knowing as little as possible and expecting it to simply be an exploration game as I did, you’ll definitely get a large amount of play time. Other than a small complaint of length (only a concern for fast track gamers), I really truly don’t have any complaints about this game. If you like this style of gameplay and this genre of story, I don’t think this game can disappoint you.
I would have loved to go more into the story of this game and what happens along the way, but spoiling a game like this would remove any reason to experience it for yourself. If you are a fan of HP Lovecraft, mysteries, or simply phenomenal storylines involving twists and turns, pick up this game. It is absolutely incredible to be a part of the story as it unfolds and if you’re a Lovecraft fan, you will absolutely love this game because it feels like being dropped into one of HP Lovecraft’s own stories here. This is probably one of the best games that I’ve played this year as far as indie games go. It seems like the indie game market understands a lot more about telling a story that a lot of the major game companies right now. If you’ve got 20 bucks, love a good story, or particularly a great mystery you’ve got to pick up this game. I don’t just give it a thumbs up I give it to huge thumbs up and I’m even raising my big toes.