The air is crisp and cold. The wind rattles the crunch beneath your feet. In the distance, you can hear the sound of rushing water. The tree branches moan as they sway. You knew this place wasn’t very close to any major towns, but exiting the train tunnel it becomes clear something is very wrong…
Bring your deducing abilities, your screen shooting skills and your love for tromping through a world marred with the supernatural for this one, folks! The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a psychological horror game set in a first person narrative. There are no villains to kill, only mysteries to solve and a boy’s life to save.
Continue reading below for my review!
During a Steam sale recently I bought a bunch of games. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (Redux) was one of them. The original game was simply entitled The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014), but when I bought it I also received the remastered version made on the Unreal 4 engine in 2015. I decided to play and review the newer one, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (Redux). It’s a smoother engine and nothing relating to the story was changed.
Setting and Plot
The game takes place in Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin. Supernatural Detective Paul Prospero takes on the case of a young boy named Ethan Carter. The boy is in grave danger thanks to the awakening of an ancient creature called The Sleeper. As Detective Prospero, you must reconstruct crime scenes and gather knowledge of the events leading up to Ethan’s vanishing to save him.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has mostly positive reviews, and I can see why. The positives, to me, far outweigh the negatives. To understand why some things are negative it’s best to go over what I liked first before I do a summary.
To start off, the scenery is beautiful. Walking through the woods and town I was awed by the detail in the environment. Autumn is defined by the colorful trees. The wetness in the mud and on the pavement is well-defined. The broken down houses and factories are gritty and weather-worn, but echo an allure of times past.
The old, rotted bridge across a steep gorge looks weather worn and in disrepair. The paint is cracking, faded, and chipped off buildings and machines. Wallpaper is peeling and dirty. Dust is everywhere.
In a word: enticing.
One of the best components in the game is how unsettling it is straight from the beginning. Jump scares and a creepy ambiance are main characters of this mind-twisting tale. There is an allusion to death and some gore, but I feel it isn’t too over-the-top. It’s nothing like a lot of the games I play; everything presented had a meaning. Stereotypical horror elements like the witch stood for something other than the famous cretin ones. There is just enough to disturb. No psychotic clowns hiding in the gutters here, kids.
The work is a Lovecraftian horror, but not in the way one might expect. Yes, there was an ancient creature threatening to take over the world. Yes, it seemed that fate was fixed from the start. Yes, there was occultism, strange beings, and a sense of despair everywhere in this small town.
However, the supernatural elements in the game aren’t over the top. You do have to use Detective Prospero’s sixth sense to solve the crimes, but it’s to develop the story, not to show off his abilities. The Sleeper, a primordial being, can control minds. There is also a zombie. Just one. Just one bane of my exhistance, thankfully. The weight of what’s going on isn’t about the paranormal and the writers did a good job of not letting it take over. The real story that the developers told was more terrifying than any piece of horror fiction.
Sounds played into the feel of the game. The music was hauntingly soft. Going through some quests I didn’t even notice it at all. This could be a minor point, but sometimes the music choices are too much (looking at you both, Fallout 3 and 4) and become more of a distraction. The special effect sounds only add to the ambiance.
The game uses the concept of reconstructing crime scenes by having you touch objects. Sometimes you place them back to their original locations. Detective Prospero “thinks” about them once he’s handled the objects. Words or snapshots appear on screen much like the modern BBC adaption of Sherlock Holmes.
There are small puzzles that need to be solved to obtain additional information. I’ve never played a game with a character having specifically this ability, so it was great fun. I felt like Mr. Holmes for a few hours.
One of the things I’m on the fence about within in the game are the characters. I do like how they look realistic in the fact that they fit their environment. The town is run down and on the edge of civilivation. Their looks reflect that. The voice acting and expressions weren’t bad, either.
It’s just that they are stereotypes. The big brother is a bully. The mom has a huge temper and yells a lot. The family is dysfunctional, adding a lot of weight to the story, yet it’s hard to feel sorry for anyone when there’s only two characters we see who have any kind of explanation as to why they’re who they are. I would have liked to see something different in terms of who has what personality, or in how the people are supposed to react given what is happening to them.
The reason I’m in the middle with this issue on their personalities is that Lovecraft himself is not known to go into much detail with the personas in his stories. They’re short stories meant to shock and make you uncomfortable with just enough explaination to make you wonder. I like Lovecraft, but I like the way other authors deal with characters better. Plus, with how the creators reshaped the traditional horror elements, it bugs me that they didn’t give the characters the same treatment.
Only two times did I have actual difficulity. Both times were because wasn’t understanding what was going on. I admit there was one I had to research online. I still don’t quite understand the point behind the house matching one.
Overall, I do recommend this game! The story was highly enjoyable for the short time I played it, it has some of the best creepiness factors, and it is visually stunning.
Because there is some graphic content, homophobic slurs, and cussing, the game is rated 18+ or Mature. I do agree with it, however, I have seen major cable TV shows with worse in them.
In this game, the story itself and the meaning behind it are reason enough to get it. On sale. For $2.99 US.
My flickr with more images of the game is here: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (Redux).