Developed by The Astronauts, a Polish studio made up of the original three founders of People Can Fly (best known for games like Painkiller and Bulletstorm), The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a paranormal adventure game that follows the story of Paul Prospero. Paul is a paranormal investigator with the ability to visualize the past once certain clues have been revealed to him. Due to this ability being able to help him figure out a scene of a crime as it occurred, he’s become renowned for his work and thus has gained a number of fans and followers. One day he receives some fan mail from a boy named Ethan, who lives in the small town of Red Creek Valley. Some weird things have been going on lately and it seems like Ethan may have awoken something that is causing a lot more harm than good. People have been murdered and now Ethan himself has vanished into thin air. What starts with a pair of legs on the railroad tracks leads Paul down a path of darkness that he may have trouble returning from.
Blending elements of Twin Peaks, HP Lovecraft and detective noir of the past, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has an utterly fascinating story that will grip any murder-mystery or sci-fi fan right from the beginning. It’s dark, gritty, weird but oddly beautiful, both in its aesthetics as well as it’s narrative. It’s a game about exploration and discovery, eliciting feelings of classic point-and-click adventure games, as well as recent titles like Serena or Dear Esther. The story is there, you just have to find it, but when you do, it’ll be worth the journey.
For the most part, you’ll spend a good majority of the game wandering around looking at things, figuring out the order in which they go (so to trigger Paul’s ability), discovering a clue and moving on to the next area. The game never holds your hand and tells you to “go here” or “do this,” it’s up to the player to figure it all out themselves. There are some puzzle elements in the game, most of which were moderately difficult, but the key word in this game is exploration at that’s where the heart of this game lies. The only issue I have is the fact that you need to find and figure everything out before you can finish the game. In a game that doesn’t give you specific directions or any indication of what you have or have not finished, having to backtrack to an earlier part of the game to find a certain item or beat a certain side mission can be a bit cumbersome. I’m all for 100% completion, but to make it mandatory to complete the game can be a bit of a pain for all but the most diligent.
Thankfully that extra time wandering around gave me some time to really soak in how beautiful this game is. This is an absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking game. Everything looks photorealistic, like you’re actually wandering around a living, breathing undiscovered part of this country. There were moments where I felt like I could reach out and touch the screen and I’d be actually be feeling a rock or a tree. Mix that with the somber and creepy ambient noise that really sets the tone for the entire game and you have a game that you can truly be immersed in for its entire five hour run time.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a beautiful, dark fantasy that harkens back to the days of classic murder mysteries. With an engrossing story, immersive graphics and pitch-perfect sound design, it’s one that any fan of adventure games can’t miss. The backtracking can be annoying and the voice acting leaves a little to be desired, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing one of the most original games this year.