Platform Reviewed – PS4
Developer – The Astronauts
Released – 14th July 2015
Verdict – A beautiful twisted fantasy
Imagine if David Lynch made a video game? Chances are it would be The Vanishing of Ethan Carter with its dreamlike world holding sinister secrets – how very Twin Peaks. So who is Ethan Carter, where is he and what’s happening in the midst of his vanishing? Luckily you have the pleasure of exploring a beautifully foreboding world. I love exploring interesting worlds with character and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has a great story to back up the intentional lack of direction. Of course the game plays out like a mystery so I won’t spoil anything here except to say that you should play knowing as little as possible.
Exploration and discovery is key. Developers The Astronauts proudly disclose that this game won’t hold your hand but that’s only because they don’t have intrusive guidelines on screen saying where to go next or clunky dialogue saying what to do next (I’m looking at you Batman Arkham Knight). You have to search the world, breathe in that glorious bleak atmosphere and find out for yourself why there is rope on a train track, what lurks at the bottom of a dark mine cavern or why an Astronaut is running away from you in a forest. The latter curiosity is one of many moments that punctuate the main narrative crux with outlandish tangents that rewards exploring the world. It works brilliantly in keeping you on your toes unaware of what you may discover next.
In terms of gameplay, you will find yourself mostly solving murders by finding weapons used at the crime scene. Once you have discovered all clues behind one crime, a sequence of flashbacks present themselves in random order. It’s then up to you to number the sequence 1-5 and then watch a playback of the crime. It’s an interesting gimmick that never feels repetitive due to the nature of the gripping unpredictable storytelling.
Cynics may describe Ethan Carter as a walking simulator in a snide sense but I’m all for an adventure that backs up that sarcastic stamp with first rate storytelling and macabre atmosphere. Quite how bleak the story is depends on your interpretation of its final stages. Without spoiling anything, Ethan Carter deals with death and violence with uncompromising detail but the ride to its finale remains remarkably fun and enjoyable.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter’s universal themes are deftly handled with sparse dialogue and fascinating stories littered around the world to discover. If I had one complaint it would be that these discoveries can’t be logged away for you see at any given time. Nevertheless I loved Ethen Carter’s story-driven adventure. Moments of real surprise and horror made the journey to the end worth it.