The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an interesting game in many aspects. It shrugs off the player guidance that has saturated games recently in favor of the mystery and wonder of discovering things for yourself. The Vanishing... is a first-person story driven mystery game, which focuses on exploring the given world, traversing through areas that all hold clues to murders and mysteries.
You play as supernatural detective Paul Prospero who has come to the small town of Red Creek Valley to investigate a letter sent by the main focus of the story, Ethan Carter. Ethan has sent Prospero the letter because strange things are going on in Red Creek Valley and so Prospero has come to investigate into the matter. According to Ethan Carter, he has awakened an entity known as The Sleeper and because of this Sleeper, his family is now trying to kill him. There are two types of investigations in the game: murder mysteries and story puzzles. The murder mysteries are the main set pieces and serve to lead you along through Red Creek Valley, following Ethan’s foot prints, while the story puzzles are based around stories that Ethan has created that symbolize something about his family members. These two types of investigations pretty much make up the backbone of the story as it naturally progresses through your own discoveries.
The beauty of the game is that you can go anywhere and solve these mysteries in any order that you want. Most mysteries are commonly found by observing the world with the centerpieces of these mysteries showing you your progress in solving the mystery via a big portal that opens wider the closer you are to solving it. Once it opens all the way you have to place the events in the order that they happened, which leads you to seeing what exactly occurred. This leads to many interesting stories and revelations that are uncovered throughout Red Creek Valley and without spoiling anything important, there are a lot of mysteries that all link together from start to finish.
The strength of the game comes from its phenomenal atmosphere and impressive graphics. The world looks really beautiful and begs to be explored, which really helps keep you in the atmosphere and encourages you to keep going, even if you’re having a tough time finding what you’re looking for. I did notice that the game stuttered a lot when I was playing it, especially when I was moving from area to area. I have a feeling it’s something that could be fixed easily in the future with a patch and while it’s a small complaint, it’s lessened by the fact that for an indie game, the graphics are massively impressive.
Although The Vanishing…is not a horror game, the game still can be very creepy and continually hints at supernatural events taking place, making the atmosphere turn against you at times and making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up on end. Since there aren’t constant scares in the game, when they did show up, they made me jump in my chair because I simply wasn’t prepared for it. The game always gives you a sense that something isn’t right in Red Creek Valley but it doesn’t give an outright answer to what is going on and most of the game becomes open to interpretation.
Some problems that might occur in the game are that sometimes important objects don’t highlight when they should and there really is no set boundaries to how far out of your way you have to go to find clues to the mysteries. This can lead to frustrations when you can’t find what you’re looking for but the lack of direction is definitely part of the charm. There is a certain satisfaction to using your own logic and finally finding what you’re looking for and feeling accomplished because of it.
At the end of the day, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a charming mystery game that has a real sense of atmosphere, a clever and interesting story, and an interesting way of making the player figure out things for themselves. The lack of direction can be frustrating sometimes but most of the puzzles do give you clues as to where to find required items. The graphics are gorgeous and the game itself and the setting are engaging, making you want to play until the end.