The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a mystery game by Polish game developers, The Astronauts.  You are an occult detective with psychic abilities on a mission to find a child who wrote to you for help.

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The family home!

On arriving in Ethan’s home town, it’s pretty obvious that everything about this is wrong.  The protagonist, Mr. Detective man (a.k.a. Paul Prospero) seems right at home digging into a mystery in a completely abandoned, rural landscape.  Unsafe looking bridges, gutted houses and empty, but still powered, mines are all nestled in an eerily beautiful forest landscape, complete with dam lakes and babbling brooks.

Is it Pretty?

A good, solid yes.  This game is beautiful.  It’s a pleasure just to walk around the game world and look at the landscapes.  It reminded me a great deal of Glendalough, and the little details, like the iron stained lake made it feel like a real place.  As a 3D artist, it was interesting to look into the technology they used to recreate actual objects in this beautiful CG world.

PrettyRock

I can only imagine the amount of work that went into making this pretty rock that you just walk past in a flash!

The atmosphere reminded me of classic mystery games such a Myst or Riven, and the limits of the beautiful environments hark back to those times as well.  There doesn’t seem to be any physics involved in interacting with the world, and there’s no way to see your own body even step through the grass.  Characters, while made well, are pretty run of the mill compared to the breathtaking world they live in.

There he is!

There he is!

Rather than imply that these limits are a criticism, I see it as economy of design.  The developers took solid game play and built their world around that in such a way as to play to it’s strengths.  The techniques they used have pushed the boat out on a genre that is seeing a resurgence in recent years, and it’s a genre I’ve always loved.

Is it Fair?

Unfortunately, the cast of Ethan Carter is incredibly homogenous.  Out of seven named characters, there’s only one woman, Ethan’s mother.  And while the story and setting forgives the lack of racial and cultural diversity somewhat, I felt that they could have portrayed at least one of the characters with some form of disability.  I do, however, find it hard to push that point, as it takes a lot of work to portray disability well.  Given the nature of the narrative, it would just have been great to see an exploration of the theme.

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It really does feel too late…

While I personally ask this question of every game I play, Ethan Carter isn’t actually that bad in terms of gender representation.  The one female character in the game behaves like a real person and doesn’t suffer from any of the typical stereotypes we see in most games.  She’s a strong, flawed character with a normal body type and practical clothing. I worry that she’s only female because they needed a mother as part of the family, but she’s written well and that does a lot to make up for it.

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This church was the least run down place in the game?

The single greatest criticism I have for this game was the naming of the protagonist and in giving him a voice.  When I step into a first person game, I want to be myself.  It drives me up the wall when developers gender a character unnecessarily, but this wasn’t just unnecessary, I’d argue that it was detrimental.  The nature of the story would have lent itself perfectly to immersing your own self into the role of the investigator  But seconds into the game, I’m being portrayed as an older man and I don’t think I was truly able to lose myself in the world from that point on.

Is it Fun?

It was a blast! I have to admit, I had a bit of a slow start, but I think that was because I watched the game play trailer.  If you’re planning to play this game, go do it now without too much prior knowledge.  You just have to walk in there and explore.  Don’t rush, don’t try to ‘win’, just explore your environment and enjoy.  I don’t think there’s any harm in looking for tips if you get stuck, narrative games can get a little boring if they slow down too much, but if you have the time, I’d avoid it.

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Keep going, it’ll be grand.

The game play can be divided in two.  You have psychic powers, and in order to investigate the deaths of the bodies you find, you need to recreate the environments around them before the death happened.  Once you do that, the ghosts (memory) will rise and you can put them in order to see how that person died.  This also leads you to the next location by hinting at where Ethan ran off to.  It’s a brilliant mechanic and felt completely natural and intriguing without being overly fussy.

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Don’t flippantly ignore this sign, I regretted it so hard!

The other half of the game is story puzzles.  Throughout the environment, you will stumble across them, and putting one back together will reveal a story that fleshes out the mystery.  Each puzzle is different, and I got to the end of the game with only discovering about half of them, and only completing one.

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I feel nervous just thinking about it D:

To give you some examples,  the one I completed first was the house portal puzzle, which I enjoyed immensely, and another was underground in the mines.  I was so freaked out by the underground puzzle that I ran away and didn’t come back until it was the last task in the game.

I can’t finish up without mentioning the narrative, as it’s central to the enjoyment of this particular game.  I’m usually wary of magic in non magical settings and was a bit fed up with the paranormal stuff right from the start.  But I was completely won over.  It took me places I didn’t expect, surprised me when I thought I knew what it was all about and gave me a conclusion that I found utterly satisfying, in part because I knew what it was hinting at before I got there, without it being too obvious.

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Um… did I fall into a different game?

In short, I recommend this game to anyone with even a passing interest in mystery or story games, and if you play a wide range of genres I think you’ll get something a little different this time around.  You can buy it on Steam or better yet, pick up a DRM free version on GOG.  Have fun and let us know what you think!

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2 Responses to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

  1. I love the song at the end credits of this game. And yes, this game is undeniably beautiful 🙂

    Like

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