The Vanishing of Ethan Carter PC Review

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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.

TVoEC_ScreenShot_01The 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.

TVoEC_ScreenShot_02The 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.

SCORE: 9/10

Reviewer – Ian @Mrbaddog28 

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment Review

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Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment Review

Developer: Frogwares

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

Platform Reviewed: PS4

Release date: 03/10/2014

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous characters in modern literature; A fictional detective based in London at the turn of the 20th century. He is a complicated man, as flawed as he is brilliant. A keen eye for detail, an immense volume of knowledge and an almost unmatched level of intelligence are not dampened by his abuse of narcotics, his distrust in women or, as he puts it, the fruitless pursuit of love and all its distractions. Narrated by his friend and colleague Dr. John Watson, Holmes’s tales are ones of blackmail, larceny and murder.

With the release of Sherlock Holmes: Crime and Punishment we get the opportunity to step into the shoes of the man himself. Tasked with solving six very different crimes, you will need to use all of Holmes’s legendary predatory skills to hunt down the culprits and bring them to justice. This is where this game differs from past Sherlock titles. This time, the fate of the guilty is our hands.

The majority of your time will be spent exploring crime scenes, examining clues and interviewing witnesses or suspects. An intuitive menu screen catalogues every clue, location and character interaction. Very rarely will you feel lost and without direction. The next step in your investigation is clearly signposted which eliminates the time spent wandering around aimlessly, lost and confused.

Camera viewpoints can be switched from a first person perspective to the third person at the press of a button. A useful feature, especially when exploring crime scenes. Begin an interrogation however and camera will instantly enter the first person view allowing a closer inspection of the individual. You will be able to scrutinise their emotions, clothing and belongings, searching for the smallest clue. What you find during these scenes can have a major influence on the rest of the case. The details can be small and easily missed, it’s here that you really to appreciate the keen eye that Holmes possesses.

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Further adding to the level of observation is something called ‘Sherlock Vision’. This enables closer examination of a crime scene. It will highlight clues that would otherwise be missed. For example, the floor may look completely normal to you or me, nothing out of place however, on closer inspection you notice a fragment of evidence has been left behind. This adds to level of immersion, you feel like Sherlock, you feel powerful and remarkable. It is very satisfying.

Holmes has one more weapon too add to his intimidating arsenal. Using his exceptional powers of imagination, certain actions can be reconstructed visually, how someone may have escaped for example. Blue mannequins will re-enact the scene in broken fragments of time and it is up to you decide what order these events took place. Make the correct judgement and the whole scene will be played out in its entirety, bringing you ever closer to the truth.

With each significant find, details are added to the ‘deduction board’, a spider’s web of clues you will need to decipher and piece together. Once it’s all connected you will arrive at the guilty verdict, it doesn’t end here however. It is now a choice of morality, based on everything you have you discovered about the case and it participants, will you condemn or absolve guilty? There is no right or wrong answer, the choice is yours and it will have a bearing on the rest of the game.

Crime and Punishment has been developed using the Unreal 3 engine and it shows. Victorian London has been wonderfully recreated. Realistic, finely detailed environments coupled with the dynamic lighting and solid shadows create a pleasingly believable place. Rich dwellings feel lavish and affable, whilst backstreets feel dank and abandoned to the darkness. The admirable character design, outstanding voice acting and realistic facial animations are a real step forward from previous iterations. The world which has been created is a convincing and at times, beautiful place.

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Sadly, like Holmes himself, Crime and Punishment is not without faults. Whilst it does have some very interesting puzzles, these can be easily skipped without any real punishment. This will aid players who have become completely unable to continue due to a problem they can’t solve but, it makes them feel superfluous and it cheapens the experience to some degree. The brilliant morale backbone is undermined by simply being able to replay the end of the case again. If you didn’t like the outcome of your initial verdict, press a button and change it. A more authentic approach would be forcing you to stand by your decision and live with the consequences. Especially when you consider that upon completion, each case can be replayed individually so different outcomes can be explored.

Sherlock Holmes: Crime and Punishment is a very respectable detective adventure. With well realised characters, wonderful atmosphere and some very well written and interesting cases, there is a lot to admire. Sadly it’s let down by some very forgiving gameplay choices making each case relatively easy to solve. You constantly get the feeling you are being pushed along to one particular outcome. It holds your hand a little too tightly and little too often.

Score : 6/10

Reviewer – Ian @MrBadDog28