Before I dive in let me get something out of the way right now, if you need your hand held and require multiple clues to solve a puzzle then The Vanishing of Ether Carter may not be for you. There is no action or killing (with the exception of a creepy miner later on). It’s just you, the gorgeous world, and clues to help piece together how Ethan Carter….well….vanished.
You play as a detective by the name of Paul Prospero who received a letter from Ethan after he’s gone missing. You emerge from a dark train tunnel into a forest and eventually make your way to a victim who’s body is severed in half with his legs a train track and his torso a few yards away. That’s all you know. From there you must unearth clues relating to the murder scene and then put them in the appropriate chronological order. Some of the scenes are easy to figure out and others are simply left to trial and error. Since you’re not given much to go on the pacing of the game can vary depending on how much exploring you choose to do . I admittedly got bored of the game and put it down for a few days but then returned and finished it in a single sitting. I’m not going to reveal any plot points other than to say the game takes a few weird turns that made me want to see it though to completion.
In terms of visuals The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is hands down one of the most gorgeous open worlds I’ve been in lately. The original game launched on PC last year using the Unreal 3 engine but has been ported to the Unreal 4 engine for PS4. I haven’t played the PC version but I can safely say the PS4 version is a quite the looker and I didn’t experience any issues with stuttering or slowdown. In the game menu you have the option to set the frame rate to a variable 60 fps or lock it down at 30 fps. I kept mine at 60 and feel like it hit the mark most times. Coupled with the lush visuals is equally stellar audio design that combines to create a very atmospheric experience. This is good because The Vanishing of Ethan Carter needs you to want to get lost in it’s world the team at The Astronauts have created or else you won’t progress through the game. Like I mentioned before the game won’t point objectives or items out to you. There are no text popups, glowing auras around items, or mini map to guide you. Everything you need to solve the mystery of why happened to Ethan is placed throughout the world just like items you’d find in the real one. The key is scouring and searching every inch of the environment to find objects you may have missed.
While the game looks and sounds great I didn’t have any attachment to the characters—even Ethan. Part of the problem is you don’t spend any time with or playing as any of the victims but instead play as a rather bland detective on the hunt for a missing child. I’m not saying I don’t feel for missing children, it’s a tragedy when a child can’t be found, but The Vanishing of Ethan Carter didn’t make me feel that sense of dread for Ethan like I did with Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us or Max and Chloe in Life is Strange, and that’s a shame. Most people love the game and I can see why. It’s full of mystery and you can get lost in it’s world, even if the path is more linear than it initially seems. Overall the remake of The Astronaut’s latest game is worth your money and time but don’t be surprised if it’s story and characters don’t stick with you long after.