The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter starts with a warning that left me feeling unsettled; “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.” I love difficult games. Jumping into action titles like Devil May Cry and Dark Souls, players know that they’re in for an excruciating adventure. Narrative adventures often relate to the so-called “walking simulator” genre. “How difficult can the game be,” I thought to myself when the text appeared on the screen. As it turns out, The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter isn’t particularly difficult. What brings a sense of challenge is the non-linear nature of the game.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter puts players in the shoes of supernatural detective, Paul Prospero, who travels to Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin after receiving a letter from the titular child talking about strange occurrences happening around the town. With little information on what exactly is going on, players are thrown into a world full of intrigue, mystery, and terror. Protagonist Paul Prospero lives up to the title of supernatural detective. By finding clues, he can travel through time to piece mysteries together. It’s a weird power that feels somewhat believable in this universe.
From the get-go, players can travel to the very end of the game. It’ll take around 30 minutes to do so. Walking around Red Creek Valley, you’ll notice lush woodsy environments, wonderful water effects, a stunning skyline, and also gloomy interiors, that hide the town’s troubled past. I found myself lost on multiple occasions, but I became enthralled by the need to explore every nook and cranny I could find. The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter wonderfully embraces the “walking simulator” genre while feeling like a point and click adventure when it comes to solving puzzles. You often have to find items and combine them with other to solve multiple cases within the overall mystery.
With that being said, The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter is a very dark video game. The subject matter alone (missing child) is an unsettling and tough topic to discuss in any medium, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Revelations discovered throughout the two-hour story bring forth a much darker narrative than one might expect. I often found myself glued to the screen, trying to figure out exactly what was unfolding in front of me. Despite the fact that there is a strong supernatural presence in The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter, there are some very authentic themes that permeate the experience.
The puzzles are creative, engaging, and thought-provoking. In certain sections, trying to connect the chain of events is interesting. It requires not only critical thinking but trial and error as well. I always loved watching key moments play out and figuring out the correct solutions provided a satisfying feeling. There are a few puzzles that are unlike any other. One instance finds players in a house that in itself is a puzzle. Without giving much away, it exercised my brain because the game tested my memorization skills. After completing that puzzle, I breathed a sigh of relief and continued my journey with the protagonist.
There’s only one problem I have with The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter: the mines. Oh, the mines. This section took a fantastic experience and turned it into a frustrating one. Without spoiling this section, the mines is the only area in the game that suddenly feels like a horror game. It’s a massive tonal shift that starts you from the beginning of the section if you fail. With plenty of massive tunnels, dark visuals, a maze-like structure, and a frustrating puzzle, the mine is an annoying section full of design flaws.
The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter from developer The Astronauts is one of the most fascinating games I’ve played in a while. The mystery is intriguing, the characters are interesting, the visuals are stunning, and the atmosphere is chilling. Despite all of the wonderful aspects, the section in the mines keeps the game from being a perfect experience. With that being said, fans of deep narratives, a strong protagonist, puzzles, and supernatural horror will find a lot to love about The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter. There’s so much to love about the game, and it would be a crime to miss it. Xbox One X owners will benefit from enhanced features, and those looking for a fantastic two hours should look no further because The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter is a game unlike most on the market.