The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

[Review] A stunning looking, open world, adventure game that promises not to hold your had. How does it fair in a world full of "walking simulators"?
The Details
  • Title: The vanishing of Ethan Carter
  • Web: Official Site
  • Developer: The Astronauts
  • Publisher: The Astronauts
  • Released: 25 September, 2014
  •  
  • Platforms: PC
  • Reviewed On: PC

WARNING: 
This review contains some mild spoilers. We don’t feel they’re are game breakers, some parts may even enhance your enjoyment of this game. Read at your own risk, you have been warned

 


The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an atmospheric, open world puzzle game played in the first person. It’s a game full of lots of walking and even more head scratching. It’s also the best looking game I have ever laid my eyes upon. The game begins with a loving message: “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand”. And boy, do they mean it. After the short intro involving your character walking through a rail tunnel speaking his intro monologue, you’re left too it. There’s no information as to what you have to do and your only objective is to move forward. 

The game is full of atmosphere and intrigue, I waned to explore everywhere and see everything, so I did. The railway track clearly paves your way forward stated ‘this is the way you need to be going, but I ignored it and went on my own little expedition. I didn’t get far, eventually you come across the inevitable blockade, in this case it was a natural obstacle in the form of a cliff overlooking a stunning view. After admiring it for a little while I plodded onwards.

ethancarter_01

The first place you’ll see after leaving the intro. The game is tingling with atmosphere and intrigue, screaming to be explored.

 

I went back to where I’d started and began walking down the railway track, one of the first puzzles of the game came into play, I won’t spoil it, but at first, it didn’t realise it was a puzzle to be solved. Puzzle objects can be interacted with by “touching” them, which opens up a small window into another world, or time, or something. The more pieces of the puzzle you complete, the larger this window gets, until eventually you can walk through it. It’s a cool feature, but I literally fell into this puzzle and had no idea that I was even completing a puzzle as I came across the various pieces. If I’m honest, I’m not sure how I feel about that, there was no pointers, or guides to say “this is a puzzle, go do it, find this, find that” it was just an object that I could touch to reveal a window, which again, had not explanation so I had no idea what to do about it. I spent around 10 minutes playing with this “dimension window”, trying to interact with it from different angles to see if it made a difference. It didn’t and I gave up and moved on.

ethancarter_03

Interacting with elements from a puzzle opens a window into another time, place, or world. As you complete more of the puzzle, this window becomes bigger. The game doesn’t tell you any of this though.

 

I then stumbled onto another piece of this puzzle, the same thing happened again, I played, I moved on. Then on the third piece (of five) I noticed the window was getting larger and thought, “oh, I bet I have to find more of these to complete the image thing?” I was correct and was greeted with a little story (which is how a lot of the story is built up and told). Now, this situation could have gone a completely different way, I could of not found that first, second or third piece and simply moved along. Lozzykinz had previously played this game, about 3 weeks before I had and she’d only stumbled into one of these puzzle pieces and then simply moved along.

Yes, it’s good that there’s no cheating “hint” system for those of us who like a good puzzle mystery, but part of me feels that a lot of this game audience could be missing out on a cracking game and a really excellent story, simply because there’s absolutely no indication of what the hell is going on. You could argue that this way is natural, stumbling into the process of learning the game and unlocking the puzzles, but you could argue that about anything. The little puzzle mechanic is odd and unusual, I do feel that it needed some sort of explanation. When I told Loz that the little effect was a doorway that needs opening by finding more of the puzzle pieces she exclaimed “well, if I’d known that I would of looked for them rather than traipsing half way through the level!” And now she’s reluctant to go back. No one likes back tracking, it isn’t fun, and I feel this lack of explanation for a mechanic that is unique to this game is its biggest downfall. 

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Some of the sights are amazing. The textures are so detailed and none of them appear to tile or be repeated. It’s truly an amazing graphical feat.

 

The story of Ethan Carter unfolds as you complete the puzzles, so if you don’t finish the puzzles, you don’t get to see the story line. I pretty much guessed what was going on after the third puzzle (in geographical order), though seeing the ending was extremely satisfying. I don’t want to say any more in-case I spoil it for someone, but I can honestly say that the story is one of the strongest elements and the way it is told is quite unique.

A nice part part of the story telling is the playing back of memories, acted out by ghostly versions of the game characters (they glow blue). It’s nice to watch, breaks the games loneliness for a few minutes and adds character to the people that you’re otherwise just reading about. My only criticism here is that the characters all look like cartoons, they completely clash with the photo-realistic world that the devs have built. It’s a little jarring the first time you see it, but you get used to it by the third vision. 

ethancarter_17

The characters look rather cartoonish, making them a little out of place in the photo-realistic world.

 

As I’ve already said, the graphics are phenomenal, everything from the texturing to the model detail, and it all draws you further into the game world. Topping this off is the wonderful sound effects gently playing away in the background. It’s a fantastic experience for the senses and I don’t think I’ve felt so drawn in to a game world for many many years. And the best thing about it all is that it runs silky smooth. On my Orange OPC with the following specs:

  • Intel i7-3770k @ 3.8Ghz
  • 16GB Corsair XMS3 RAM
  • nVidia GTX 760 2GB

I get a solid 60 frames per second with everything maxed out at 1920*1080. The screenshots are a testament to how beautiful the game is and it puts other developers to shame.

Final words. The game is excellent, slightly short if you manage to do all the puzzles in a row like myself, I did and it took my a little under 3 hours to fully complete with a small amount of backtracking. The save system is a mild annoyance as it only saves after you’ve completed a puzzle and occasionally at some other seemingly random points. My last little niggle is a jump scare that is towards the end of the game, I won’t spoil it, but do be warned that some people find it terrifying, personally I found the very first puzzle made me jump more. It does feel massively out of place, especially as this is the only area I think you can die. It does ruin the tone and flow of the game, it’s a massive transition that comes from out of nowhere and is then gone equally as quickly.

Overall though, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a fantastic mystery puzzle open-world exploration game that sets a whole new level for graphical standards. It’s well worth the asking price and even more so when it’s on offer. And if you don’t like the difficulty of the puzzles, you can always grab a walk-through on the internet. 

 


HD Gallery

Judgement
Pros:
  • Fantastic graphics. It looks amazing.
  • The story is great and unfolds gradually as you play.
  • The atmosphere is fantastic, giving great vibes through the vast majority of the game.
  • Solving a puzzle is extremely satisfying.
Cons:
  • Can be a little confusing at times.
  • The save system is a pain in the backside. It only seems to autosave when you fully complete a puzzle, meaning you could loose a lot of effort if you have to quit.
  • Not for everyone, if you don't like puzzle games that have no hint system, you won't like this.
  • Scary part feels misplaced and ruined the flow and atmosphere of the game.
  • The character art is quite cartoonish, seriously contrasting the game worlds photorealism.
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NaytoE
Web Master at CoupesCorner
Nathan is lumbered with all the technical stuff behind CoupesCorner. If stuff breaks, it's always someone else's fault, but he'll fix it, because he's a pretty awesome guy.

Nathan loves tactical shooters, RPG's and Bro-Ops games. Some all-time favourites of his are Black and White 2, Postal 2, the Rainbow Six series and Pokemon. He also loves playing guitar and fishing with his dad, when Lozzy isn't busy making him do stuff...
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