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.
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.
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.
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.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4