The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (PS4)
As a paranormal investigator, you must uncover the dark secrets hidden behind the small mining town of Red Creek Valley, Pennsylvania while searching for the young Ethan Carter.
3-3 1/2 hours
July 15, 2015
Publisher: The Astronauts
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle, First Person, Suspense
I love beat-em-ups and first person shooters as much as the next person, but even at what is arguably the best time to be a gamer, we sometimes still have to rely on indie developers to give us a good puzzle game. There is nothing wrong with indie games at all, but it would be nice to have another big production that you can sink a lot of time into.
You play as Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator who receives a letter from 12 year-old Ethan Carter asking him to look into his hometown of Red Creek Valley, Pennsylvania. Upon arriving in Red Creek Valley, you find that the town is deserted and Ethan is nowhere to be found. While looking for Ethan, you have to solve puzzles and find clues as to where everyone disappeared. As you are looking through the town, you will discover a dark secret that the entire town is a part of, which leads you to ask the question: who is the Sleeper?
There are some rather gruesome scenes in Ethan Carter. These range from severed limbs to strangulations to a grisly suicide. Mix that in with a lot of random blood stains and you have a fairly gory game. There is an unnecessary amount of vulgarity as well. Almost every character you encounter drops “G** d***” and “s***” at least once in the conversation. There is a scene towards the end of the game where one of Ethan’s brothers calls him a “f*****” multiple times in one sitting.
There are some notably scary parts in Ethan Carter as well. Later in the game, you have to explore a maze inside the mines under the town while being chased by a ghost. If the ghost catches you, it triggers a jump scare and sends you back to the beginning. The ghost is quite nasty to look at. If things like jump scares concern you, you should be wary.
There are some pagan elements as well. The Sleeper resembles something from H.P. Lovecraft with a similar appearance to Cthulhu, even down to the lore. It is an entity that the town worships and offers animal sacrifices to. There is talk of a witch, but you do not see her—just her tent in the woods.
Ethan Carter starts out by telling you that it is a narrative experience and it will not hold your hand—and that is exactly right. You are thrown right into the mystery as soon as you enter the game. The most common mysteries are the corpses that you will find scattered throughout each location. When you find one, you can examine it to find a small rip in reality. Each clue is never too far away from each body, as each body is usually close to the object related to the death of that person. When all the pieces are put together, the rip gets bigger allowing you to flash back and set the events in chronological order.
There are some pretty frustrating moments in Ethan Carter as well, including the “False Interiors” puzzle. This one leads you to a house where you find a strange note about discovering the true interior of the house and hints of a secret room. This one took a while because you have to shift every room in the house into its proper place by standing on the outside of the room looking in and pressing X until the right room is at the right place, and if you get something wrong, you start all over again. However, there is a secret to finishing up this puzzle pretty quickly, but it will still take a good amount of memorization as the house is three stories tall.
Without spoiling the story, some of the puzzles incredibly random. At one point, you are walking through the woods, and you encounter an astronaut. Chasing it down will add a bit more to unraveling the mystery of Ethan’s disappearance, but it is definitely the most random part of the game.
The most upsetting thing about Ethan Carter is the length.Though there are several locations like the forests outside of town and the mines below, and even with all of the challenging puzzles and mysteries to solve the whole thing only lasted about four hours. You can achieve 100% trophy completion in your first play through.
As I said before, Ethan Carter does not hold your hand, but it is not impossible. When you find a clue, words will circle around the screen until you are pointed in the direction of the next one, giving you an idea of where to look for another piece of the puzzle. This may sound like the opposite of not holding your hand, but it comes in very convenient with certain parts of the game.
For the Playstation 4, Ethan Carter got an upgrade from the Unreal Engine 3 to Unreal Engine 4, and it looks phenomenal. The environment is very crisp, from vast mountains to darkly-lit mines. Everything has a polished look that would stand up against any major title. Each house and building you enter has a rustic, small town feel that makes them look like the familiar communities of the midwest. When you go into flashback mode, everything gets a dark blue tint that truly provides the sense having stepped back in time.
The voice acting is pretty solid in Ethan Carter. There are some moments where the sync is off from the character, but they are few and far between. The musical score was conducted by Mikolai Stroinski, who also composed the score for The Witcher 3. Each piece of music sets the tone very appropriately and not only helps with the atmosphere, but also enhances it by setting the mood to each part of the story.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of those rare experiences where I was immersed in the story, yet I found myself on the outside looking in. The game takes intriguing twists and turns that keeps the mystery fresh and had me second guessing until the very end. It is a step in the right direction for puzzle games and let’s hope that we see more great games like this from The Astronauts and others will follow their lead in terms of atmosphere and story.
+ Great story
+ Wonderful Music
+ Immersive gameplay
- Way too short
- Unnecessary cursing
- Some vocal sync issues