In recent years I’m falling more and more in love with games like these. Some would classify them as walking simulators but I prefer to see them as interactive experiences that require more involvement than just watching a story play out.
I went into this game blind, with no pre-existing knowledge and having hardly seen a screenshot from the game in advance. It’s been around since 2014 on PC, but when I was informed that it would be getting an Xbox One release that takes full advantage of the 4K possibilities of the Xbox One X… I was sold!
There is little to no introduction as to what the story is about in the first parts of the game. The opening scenes are rather vague and all they managed to get across is that you’re playing as some sort of paranormal investigator/detective and you’re looking for Ethan Carter, a young boy who plays a central role in this narrative. You won’t be talking to any characters but instead will have to interact with the world and several crime scenes to find out what has come to pass. You’d better pay attention and really explore the environments too, as besides a few key interactions most of the content is entirely missable.
In my first run I missed out on 3 possible interactions in the first half hour alone.
Wow! Just… Wow! I have honestly never played a game as great looking as this one before. From the very first moment when I exited the railroad tunnel, I was blown away.
Have we really come this far? Videogame graphics that almost look better than real life… Visually this one is a stunner! New game review under way: #TheVanishingOfEthanCarter by @TheAstroCrew pic.twitter.com/Aw4lj9cWmE
— BloodyGoodReviews (@Bloodyspasm) January 15, 2018
The work they’ve done on textures and animating even the blades of grass is simply incredible. I found myself constantly asking my wife to come and check what was displayed on the TV as I just couldn’t believe my own eyes.
While the main storyline may not be that long, you could just spend hours in this world walking around at a leisurely pace and taking in the breathtaking vistas. I’ve done just that and was constantly on the look for the right angles to take some interesting pictures. In the end it evolved into becoming a game in its own right.
I know that there are many great-looking games out right know, but their fast pace often made me look past the visuals and kept me focussed on progressing the story instead. In the Vanishing of Ethan Carter, I just wanted to take in the sceneries for hours on end! In fact, there is even a new free roam mode that has been introduced which allows you to do just that: all prompts and signs of violence have been removed. If you turn off the music and just leave the sound effects on, it’s as if you’re truly there.
Seriously, in my opinion the graphics alone are enough to warrant the asking price. I will keep using this game to show off what current gen consoles can do for years to come!
During my two playthroughs, I was only ever bothered by a few things: some rare texture pop-ins (when I ran into an area that the game didn’t expect me to run to just yet) and the slightly subpar character models, which paled in comparison to the detailed surroundings.
I can appreciate a good soundtrack just like the next guy. But I never feel like I’m the right person to talk about it in length as I regularly fail to find the words needed to express the beauty in audio the same way I can for other aspects. I can say though, that the music did a great job at setting the atmosphere and even the pace. As in this scene where an astronaut appears in the forest and it was the music that gave me the impression that I should give chase.
The voice acting on the other end was a bit of miss for me, but that could have more to do with the script than with the voice actors. I just didn’t find the characters all that fascinating, except for Ethan and the protagonist, who’s narration was the only vocal standout. The others had too many lines that felt forced or didn’t succeed in bringing the correct tone needed for the scene.
The game starts off with a message that it will not be holding your hand and that statement is spot on. It took me more than half an hour to actually discover what the gameplay mechanics are and I had even missed a great deal of content as a consequence.
At the very first murder scene you come across, you’ll find two severed legs and a trail of blood leading to a body. There is a prompt to touch the body but that only opens a tiny window into what seems to be an alternate dimension. I’ve since watched other streamers play the game and they all seemed to struggle with this in the same way: somehow you’re lead to believe that your position or field of view plays a role in what you see. But what the game really wants you to do, is to collect more clues to piece together the murder.
One way to find the clues is to align multiple text-prompts that appear in some locations. For this first murder you’ll need to find a crank to start the traincar again. I had no idea that moving the camera while the words were visible was what was needed to align them and to reveal the item’s location. It also didn’t help that some of the items that you need to find are tiny and well hidden in a world filled to the brim with highly detailed textures. The game is called the vanishing of Ethan Carter, but perhaps Ethan just got lost in this sizeable world himself…
Once you’ve found all the clues, you need to set the correct chronology for the events. It’s just a shame that these show little to no visual information and you don’t get any tips. In half of the cases, this resulted in a frustrating bit of guesswork.
It kind of reminded me of Alan Wake in some ways, but that game used Alan’s narration or manuscript pages that you find ahead of the puzzles to explain to you what you have to do. Here you’re left clueless and you’ll most likely need a guide on more than one occasion.
I did like that the game allows you to branch off into different paths and that you didn’t HAVE to solve the puzzles in the correct chronological order. In some way this even increased it’s total length as I went in for a second playthrough right after the first to see what I had missed. As it turns out, I had only covered about half the game. That being said, if you know where to go and don’t get lost too often, you’ll be able to clear the game in about 3 to 4 hours.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has been a great way to start off the gaming year for me. It’s amazing graphics truly surprised me and I still can’t fathom how fast the technology has progressed these past few years. The game informs you from the start that it won’t be holding your hand but strangely enough this is the only thing that kept it back from true excellence as I had to actually google how to play the game and that can never be the intention. The story was interesting but it’s the 4K graphics that truly stole the show and it got me VERY excited to play the studio’s next game: Witchfire.
Words don’t convince you? here’s the first half hour of the game: