Welcome to Red Creek Valley…enjoy your stay.
Guided storyline driven experiences have seen a revival of late, especially on the PC. So when the Vanishing of Ethan Carter was released late last year, it received a lot of attention. It’s a beautiful game with some breathtaking atmosphere, and PS4 players that are fans of exploration games and mysteries should take notice.
Here players take on the role of Paul Prospero, a psychic detective of sorts. He has been drawn to Red Creek Valley in order to help discover why Ethan Carter has gone missing. The most immediate reaction players will have as they leave the tunnel leading into town is the graphical beauty. A desolate forest, filled with sunlight, trees blowing in the wind, and deadly traps strewn about. These awe struck visuals never stop the remainder of the game, as each area brings further picturesque moments.
Platforms: PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $19.99
How long to beat: 4–6 hours
Prospero starts the story with his banter and continues to deliver bits and pieces via inner monologues throughout the story. Sometimes about himself, his thoughts on clues, and the items he discovers. Where his psychic abilities come into play is when finding clues, words will appear on screen. As he makes discoveries, sometimes he will get visions that requires a specific puzzle piece to be discovered. Other times he will need to observe multiple areas or clues in order to paint a bigger picture or vision from the past. The mystery around Prospero and the case for Ethan just has a sense of wonder and oddness to it that players won’t be able to quite put their finger on.
While the game has puzzles to solve, the other aspect is really exploration and reading notes that players discover. The town and surrounding areas has a feeling of beauty, yet it’s oddly silent. It’s a huge contrast and one that made me uncomfortable at times. A location that looks so good, players can imagine being able to visit a location of such beauty, yet something bad and ominous feels at play thickening the air. Puzzles are found throughout the environments, and surprisingly can also be completely passed. There is nothing to really annotate player progress or feedback. You can explore as you see fit. Yet when players reach the end, seeing what was missed becomes key, and then the time for backtracking and rounding up those missed elements is needed to see the ending sequence.
If there are any downfalls to an otherwise enjoyable experience, it’s just a few points. Due to the nature of the game just dropping players into this world, not holding their hand in direction, it can leave players feeling empty in terms of progress. Players will question if they are going the right way, or did they miss something? The other aspect that could be grating is the voice work; while Prospero does a fine job, some of the other voices seem hit or miss, though nothing is outright terrible. The ending is also going to be up or debate on what players consider satisfactory. I won’t spoil it for folks, but it surely left me with my mind reeling and wasn’t at all what I expected. That aside, performance in framerate can also be a tad jarring, as it appears to go from 60fps to 30fps and is easily noticed. Since the game is slower and exploration based, not action heavy, this doesn’t hurt the overall experience.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks amazing on PS4 with the update to Unreal Engine 4. When I played the game on PC I enjoyed it, but I think I went into it with some preconceived notions. This led me to not appreciating what it did for the genre as I do now after getting my hands on it for another go. If you love exploration, mystery, even a sense of wonder and awe, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter provides all this and more. For the 4 to 6 hours the game lasts, it’s definitely a memorable experience.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.