The Vanishing of Ethan Carter opens with a few words from the developer telling you that you’re pretty much on your own. They were not kidding around when they added that, and when you step out of the tunnel in the shoes of Paul Prospero, you might feel a tiny bit overwhelmed. That’s normal.
As a detective with a foot in the occult, you’re tasked with finding Ethan Carter who has called upon you by way of letter. He is somewhere in Red Creek Valley, but it doesn’t take a lot of exploring before you discover that something has really hit the fan and that everything just got very serious. Using a set of supernatural skills, you are able to discover and reconstruct happenings around the valley that will hopefully give you the answers you seek.
Ray of Light
The first thing that will probably hit you is how gorgeous TVOEC is. When you first start the game you enter a small wooded area with rays of sunlight streaming through the trees. Everything is swaying in the breeze so convincingly you can almost feel it. From a pure presentational standpoint, it’s absolutely brilliant. And then a trap scares the bejesus out of you. Nothing like a warm welcome to put you in your place.
The world is an oyster
In lack of a better term, this is a walking simulator just like Gone Home and Ether One. There is no combat or anyone to talk to. There’s just you and a world to explore. The first hour or so might seem a bit confusing as you’re walking around getting the lay of the land, but you’ll soon enough stumble upon items to either look at or interact with. There is a set of mechanics available for you to solve the mysteries, but not all of these and how they work are clear, which might cause some frustration when trying to progress. What you’re supposed to actually do with what you discover isn’t particularly clear, and the game could have benefited from a tiny bit of nudging in the right direction. I wasn’t expecting or wanted a complete explanation, but I did end up wandering around confused for a little bit. Could be just me though.
When you do get the hang of things though, you’re cast into a well executed and interesting murder-mystery set in a beautiful space. It’s daunting at first, but there’s so many exciting things to see and discover, and you can do it all in your own pace, in whatever order you see fit. Every mystery you stumble upon is equally intriguing, slowly fleshing out the story through letters and reconstructions. Some item locations will come off as odd, and you might have to chase an astronaut through the woods, but these are all things that will keep you attentive throughout the game and encourage exploring. There is always something strange going on and it’s both haunting and beautiful.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter strips away the mini-maps, the tool tips, the guns and the explosions and puts itself and its fascinating story in your hands to play as you want. It’s rewarding and highly recommended.