The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter Review

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter isn’t a new game, having been released on PC in September of last year. Taking on the role of the gruffly voiced Paul Prospero, supernatural private investigator extraordinaire, you are tasked with solving the mystery into the disappearance of a young boy called Ethan Carter. But as it makes the leap from PC to PlayStation 4 – and from Unreal Engine 3 to Unreal Engine 4 in the process – is this supernatural mystery worth solving?

All across the game there is a serene, yet somehow unsettling atmosphere. Its abandoned, dilapidated railways lead to an unpopulated hamlet with an increasingly ghostly vibe. You do get the sense of terror and madness within the voice acting, but it’s the sound design that really stands out and puts one on edge. It’s apparent that the game explores some deep themes including a dark descent into madness. While you may have sussed the game’s big twist by the story’s end, the events thereafter are great examples of powerful storytelling.

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In terms of what the game actually is, the term “Walking Simulator” is often bandied for certain games and has been applied to the likes of Dear Esther and Gone Home. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is not really one of these games, though it barely scratches below the surface. Interactivity is certainly light and there’s not much to do once you’ve completed the story, which is rather short, so if that is a big turn-off for you then look elsewhere.

Puzzles are usually in the form of events and tend to revolve around either a grisly murder or weird supernatural happenings. Murders have you looking at every possibly related clue and finding items that were moved, before touching the dead body and invoking Prospero’s innate psychic abilities to attempt to reconstruct events that lead up to the killing in the right order and demonstrate to the spirit that you understand what has happened here. They’re generally pretty simple to solve, but provide an intriguing insight into the happenings of this small hamlet.

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There’s something you should probably understand about Ethan: He’s obsessed with pulp fiction, with no real preference in genre. For some reason this seems to bleed into the real world with each instanced event, producing some rather bizarre scenarios. To explain them in detail would be a huge disservice, but they add an interesting if slightly detached twist to the proceedings that are already warped by the supernatural.

Of course, if you have played the PC version, you know all of this. The biggest difference between the PC and the PlayStation 4 versions of the game is the shift from Unreal Engine 3 to 4 – a change which will be rolled back to the PC in time, with certain relatively minor benefits. Regardless of the game engine, the game looks simply breathtaking! Walking across the bridge at the very beginning of the game presents you with an almost fairytale aesthetic. As events unfold, a mixture of broad open spaces and claustrophobic caverns show just how lovingly crafted the game is. This definitely sets the bar for what is possible with Unreal 4 on PlayStation 4.

What’s Good:

  • Looks stunning in the Unreal 4 Engine.
  • Intense atmosphere sucks you in.
  • A great, if harrowing story.

What’s Bad:

  • Barebones gameplay isn’t for everyone.
  • A tad on the short side.
  • Not much replay value beyond solving “Stories”.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter might be less involved than a lot of mystery games, but it is by no stretch any less fascinating, beautiful or immersive. Its haunting atmosphere sucks you in with its unsettling vibe, but it’s the mystery that keeps you there until the very end. It may not be the longest game, but if the supernatural intrigues you even a little, then this one case worth taking.

Score: 7/10

Version Tested: PlayStation 4

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21 Comments

  1. Thanks for saying there’s a twist at the end, now I’ll be trying to spot it the whole game. Nice one.

    • The twist is that when he got shot at the beginning he actually died and the kid who can see dead people was actually talking to a ghost all along.

      • And then he woke up and it had all been a dream!

      • But then he woke up from his dream within a dream and Leonardo Dicaprio asked him to design a maze in 2 mins that is not resolveable in less than a minute.

    • The fact that there’s a twist is very obvious as things don’t add up even from the beginning (read: extremely early on). No real spoiler there. Promise.

      However, it’s a strange, quirky, lovely little title that deserves the time of gamers who are into this sort of thing. If you are one of those gamers, I hope you enjoy it. :-)

      • It’s also breathtakingly beautiful. Screengrab I took when playing it on the PC.

        Imgur Link.

      • Amazing view in that screen grab. Will definitely check this out, I really like the laid back gameplay of these ‘walking simulators’ .

  2. Do we know if this’ll be playable on Morpheus?

    • They’re working on an Oculus Rift version, but haven’t said anything about Morpheus. It’s possible, but one thing at a time.

      • If they manage to pull this off in VR, that would be amazing!

  3. Sounds like something I’d be interested in but it really comes down to price. If it’s cheap enough, I might break away from what I’m currently playing but if not, the next time I hear about this game will probably be when it’s announced as a freebie on PS Plus. It does look interesting though.

    • Under £14 with PS+ discount, I think.

      • Cheers for that. That’s probably a little more than I would have wanted to pay given the short length and lack of replayability but I guess it’s not too unreasonable when you compare it to the price of a movie ticket these days. I’ll probably hold off for now until it’s confirmed that there aren’t any soul destroying glitches/bugs – which has become the norm for new releases. I still have Lego JP and Arkham Knight to finish yet so it’s not like I’m short of games to play.

      • @JR. – In my experience there were no game breaking glitches or anything like that during my play through.

      • That’s good to hear. Just watched the video because I couldn’t view it earlier and I think I was confusing this game with Everybody’s gone to the Rapture which I was on the fence about after watching the E3 footage. This actually looks great and I probably will pick it up now.

  4. Good review, i’m looking forward to playing it but will hold off for a bit.

  5. That was my first preorder on PS4 – I could tell from a far that I would like this, thus I wanted to support them paying full (PS Plus) price.

  6. As we’re showing screenshots, here’s one I took whilst playing* the PC version http://i.imgur.com/f0KfzGG.jpg?1

    *I say playing, I actually paused the game, set everything to max, took the shot then set everything back to average then went back to playing. The visuals we’re somewhat marred by the walking through treacle effect and my laptop was about to set fire.

    • Hahaha! Love that you paused it, set it to max, etc. Stunning shot, though, fella. :D

  7. Reminds me of murdered:soul suspect, which I personally really enjoyed. Will look to get this when I have a bit more free time.

  8. Independent Polish group of urban explorers, called Adventure Hunters, prepared and published movie showing outstandingly beautiful and mysterious places, which were an inspiration for game creators from The Astronauts studio: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq9DtKSQXrw

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