The Vanishing of Ethan Carter – Review (Xbox One)
To call a game a walking simulator may be the most degrading way to classify it. To take these incredible story driven experiences and pigeonhole them in a way that says they are nothing more than walking around is a wrong I hope to see rectified in the near future.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a four year old gem that always gets lumped into this “genre.” At long last, fans of Microsoft’s Xbox One will finally be able to play the game with some bonuses only available on the console.
Developer, The Astronauts, offered some insight as to why it took almost four years for them to bring their game to the Xbox. They are a small team and shorty after releasing the game they updated it for the PS4 and PC on the Unreal Engine 4. Being such a small team they began working on their next game that we now know to be Witchfire, thanks to the incredible reveal at The Game Awards. They didn’t want to throw together a haphazard “port” of Ethan Carter to the Xbox, so they began a search for a team who would give it the care they desired. Enter SPIN Software, a polish company that has met all of the standards that The Astronauts had for their game and exceeded their expectations. With a complete overhaul in the newest version of Unreal, not only is this the best looking version of the game but with the addition of the Xbox exclusive Free Roam Mode, it can also boast having the most content.
On the surface the premise seems fairly simple. You play as Paul Prospero, a detective who is well versed in the occult. After receiving a letter from Ethan, Paul travels to Red Creek Valley to investigate the happenings surrounding Ethan’s vanishing.
As you traverse the wooded area at the beginning of the game a quick interaction opens up the supernatural and unexpectedly grand scope contained within. Following in the footsteps of an astronaut seemingly from a different time or dimension you are quickly transported to space where your journey begins. After reading a note from Ethan, you are transported back to Red Creek, where you’ll learn about Ethan and his family.
From the start of the game a line of dialogue lets you know that it will not hold your hand, and “wow” do The Astronauts deliver on that promise. Your path takes you to a series of difficult yet rewarding puzzles that unfold along your journey. As you search for Ethan you’ll come to an abandoned burned out house and have to unlock its ancient mysteries in order to receive a message that Ethan left behind.
Once receiving this message the trail heats up again as you follow along learning more and more about Ethan’s family and their extreme fears surrounding the boy. As you progress through the levels, you learn the fate of each family member through a series of memories unlocked as you decipher the puzzles. A few chapters into the game you’ll start to see the pattern… replace missing objects to their home and then sense the body to discover the memories. At this point you must put the memories in chronological order enabling them to play out in front of you. 90% of the puzzles revolve around this and when you complete them you feel great about what you’ve uncovered and can sit back and see the story unfold. One departure from this equation involves the puzzles in the mines. Figuring out what to do here can be a bit tricky and is definitely the part of the game that drags on the longest, with the payoff being basically a few lines in a note left by Ethan. It in no way breaks the experience, but could potentially have you wandering around aimlessly for quite some time.
It becomes difficult to talk about Ethan Carter without getting into dangerous spoiler territory, but the writing in the game is spectacular. I was hooked from the moment Paul Prospero started to speak because he had this noire-ness to his voice that had me hanging on every word he said. Even the name Paul Prospero seems so link the story to The Tempest and the supernatural events it contains.
I almost feel this goes without saying, but make sure you see this game through to the end. In order to complete the game you must complete all of Ethan’s stories, in any order you see fit, and then you’ll be able to see the proper ending. I’d love nothing more than to mention it here because it hit me hard. I’ll be evaluating my thoughts on the events that transpired in Red Creek Valley for quite some time. Cinematic gaming experiences like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter are very special and I hope this genre is around for a very long time.
Free Roam Mode is a wonderful addition to the Xbox version. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is at times a grotesquely beautify game. If you prefer your beauty a little less grotesque, this mode is for you. You walk around exploring the enchanting that world they have created – minus all the blood and suspense. I found this to be a great way to really look at the environment instead of just combing the area for clues to advance the story. While I explored nearly every inch of the world looking for clues, it wasn’t until trying this mode that I realized how much of the world I had missed.
If you’ve been sleeping on this game for years, now is the time to play through it. The Xbox One version is the ultimate experience and should not be missed.
*The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was provided to the reviewer by the publishing company but this fact did not alter the reviewer’s opinion*
Author: Phil Neyman
Philip is better at buying video games than he is at playing them. He was once told “it must suck to love something so much and be so terrible at it.” As a boy he would write terrible poems about himself and Ross Perot. He enjoys the best and worst of all forms of media, but nothing in the middle. Puyo Puyo Tetris has almost caused unreconcilable differences between him and his wife. He’s never had a hangover, but not from lack of trying.