The Vanishing of Ethan Carter PC Review
Publisher: The Astronauts
Developer: The Astronauts
Platform Reviewed: PC
Release date: 25/09/2014
Ethan Carter is a very special young boy, he has ability to see what others cannot; It is this gift which has put him in danger. Lost, frightened and alone, he is in desperate need of help. Playing as Paul Pospero, an occult minded detective, you receive a letter from Ethan, his cries for assistance are deafening, you must help this young man and save him from whatever perils that threaten him. Without hesitation you make your way to Red Creek Valley.
The uneven floor crunches underfoot as you take the first steps along an abandoned rail road. The darkness of the tunnel, broken only by the light in the distance. Emerging into the warm glow of the sun, your eyes adjust quickly to the light. A thin layer of mist gently covers the surrounding forest; branches move gracefully as they are kissed by the wind. Moss covered rocks lie in peaceful slumber. The overgrown grass dances to the sound of its own tune.
Crossing a derelict and badly damaged wooden bridge you spot a cold, rusted train car, it has been left to time to do with it as it pleases. It’s only as you draw closer that you notice the blood stains. Peering further down you realise that something foreign is sitting on the tracks. With great unease you approach, the horror of what you witness sends a shuddering chill coursing through you. It is here that we leave your tale, the rest of this mystery is for you to solve.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a mesmerising mix of mystery and the supernatural. Rarely has a detective game been able to produce such an acute sense of unease. The world you have been tasked to explore feels real and yet so isolated. The minimalistic approach to gameplay only deepens the sense of atmosphere and intrigue. There is no inventory screen, no complicated mechanics, no map or compass, it’s just you and what you can see. You’re left all alone, free to explore Red Creek Valley in your desperate hunt for the young boy who absolutely needs your help.
Progression through the story is achieved by solving various puzzles or crime scenes. Examining a clue will bring Pospero’s thoughts on screen, increasing the level of immersion as you feel at one with his thoughts. Decipher them correctly and you will begin to piece together the awful truth, find enough clues and Pospero will be able to use his supernatural abilities to re-imagine the events leading up to the crime. Place them together in the correct chronological order and whole scene plays out to its devastating conclusion, shedding more light on the events as you continue your search for Ethan.
Devoid of all signs of life, Red Creek Valley is as haunting as it is beautiful. It is easy to become distracted by stunning detail and wonderfully rich environments the team at The Astronauts have managed to create. Whilst all signs of civilisation are slowly decaying, the true force of nature is in full effect as it reclaims the land for itself. The contrast between new an old is a wonderful setting for such a macabre tale.
The soundtrack only deepens the feelings of gentle discomfort. It is so wonderfully composed, subtle changes in pace and tone capture the emotions of each scene perfectly. From soft and soothing to chilling and suspenseful, the arrangement is always perfectly timed and perfectly implemented. It is a master class in how music can be used to provoke emotion. Couple this with gruff soliloquy of Pospero, and the atmosphere this manages to create is so intense it seems tangible.
The ability to freely explore makes for an incredible experience, yet it can be easy to become lost and without focus, especially if you miss a vital clue. The lack of direction can, at times, be frustrating. Having to retrace your steps in search of something significant will irritate some. A notebook which details your findings would have been of great benefit and would eliminate some of the senseless backtracking.
That being said, this is only a minor issue in what is a truly remarkable adventure. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a supreme example of interactive storytelling. The beautiful surroundings, the rich and detailed visuals, the complex story, the exceptional soundtrack all combine into an experience that will live long in the memory. Red Creek Valley is home to something very special indeed.
Reviewer – Ian @Mrbaddog28