Over the last few years my gaming tastes have changed. Walking simulators, a genre that tasks the player with playing out a story in the first person through interactive puzzles or characters, has quickly become one of my favorite. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has been at the top of this list until I sat down with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Playing as a private investigator named Paul Prospero, the player arrives in a small town to find chaos all while being tasked with figuring out what happened to Young Ethan Carter. The game tells a great story that has enough twists and puzzles to keep you going until the final chapter.
In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, the focus of the game is on Detective Paul Prospero, controlled by the player. However, he is no regular detective, but one with supernatural abilities. As you play through each section you will uncover clues and are able to revisit the past to see various incidences and murders as they happened. From the moment you end up in the woods on some train tracks, you just start to explore and follow the paths, wherever they may lead. The game warns you at the beginning that there is no hand-holding, and they are correct. It took me a little bit to really get a grasp on what you are capable of, and what you need to be looking for, but that was fine.
The game is essentially broken up into a number of scenes and you will go from train tracks to a massive dam, to mines and more. There is a nice variety of locales and places to explore, however you are fairly limited to walled-in areas and various dead-ends. It makes sense as to keep the game contained and stream-lined, but sometimes I just wanted to explore a bit more. In most of the locations though, there is usually at least one big puzzle, or some smaller ones, that need to be solved to continue on. Sometimes it’s something simple like recovering all the clues from a murder scene, and others it revolves around arranging rooms in a magician’s house. They don’t take too long to figure out once you clue into what’s going on, but there was at least one puzzle that really took me a while to figure out. I won’t say too much about the story, other than you as Prospero are trying to figure out what happens to Ethan, as the story is the game and I don’t want to spoil anything. Regardless, if you’re a fan of mysteries and Lovecraft, then you will likely enjoy this story a lot.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has been out for a few years now, first on PC, then on PlayStation 4, and now finally on Xbox One. I’m not sure what the delay was in regards to the port, but it is still a fantastic looking game. There is a 4k patch for the Xbox One X, however, I did not get a chance to see it in action. I do have an Xbox One S, and a new 4k tv, however, and the game was often very, very gorgeous. From the vibrant leaves in the autumnal forests to the craggy cliff faces, and even just rocks down by the water, all the locations in the game look fantastic. I did, however, find some textures would take a few seconds to load in if I was running from location to location nonstop, which would take you out of the game sometimes, but didn’t happen that often. Regardless, I took a number of screenshots and will likely make some my home screen wallpaper on my Xbox.
For the most part, the dialogue and voice acting is pretty good in the game. The actors all put in overall solid performances and are generally believable, with one or two exceptions. Paul Prospero is definitely my favorite though, as he is played perfectly like a pulp detective straight out of the Rick Diamond era of PI’s, and is a perfect guide through a sometimes crazy and pulp-based world. The music is also spot on and may become one of my all-time favorite video game soundtracks, with tracks often ranging from melancholic and haunting to short but sweeping pieces that rise with the scenes perfectly. It is a very somber soundtrack, but it fits the tone of the game well as it is far from a cheerful story that is told here.
All in all, it doesn’t take too long to make it through the game, maybe a few hours if you’re really investigating everything and taking in all that the world has to offer. The Xbox One release, however, has an added free roam mode, which is perfect for those that want to go back and just explore the world and take a pile of screenshots. I’m certain that even after finishing it and having the mystery solved, I’ll likely go back to it down the road, and revisit the mysterious disappearance of Ethan Carter and his mildly crazy family. If you’re a fan of walking sims or just like a really good mystery, then I highly recommend The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It’s a great mystery, with solid writing and is worth the journey if you haven’t had the chance to play through it yet.
A review copy of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was provided courtesy of The Astronauts for the purpose of this review.