Review by Ryan
Welcome to Red Creek Valley. The light at the end of a old tunnel is where you’ll emerge to see your first few unreal vistas that set the stage for a beautiful world of exploration and dark secrets. In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, you play as Paul Prospero, a supernatural detective that works in mysterious ways to tie together the thought provoking and imaginative nature of his surroundings.
Through the eyes of Detective Prospero, he sets off with only a call for help in the form of fan mail from a boy in deep trouble. Ethan Carter has vanished. His whereabouts is now in the hands of the player’s. A journey of many paths and puzzles, some off track and out of this world, and others dark and twisting, all leading you to an ending that inflames more questions than answers.
Setting and mood. Two prominent features The Vanishing of Ethan Carter establishes immediately. Chilling or haunting music is triggered from a brilliant soundtrack to create the perfect mood for the setting, game play mechanics, and events in the game. Come walking in peace, and have your eyes lost in a sunset glazed sky that lead to a reveal up ahead. What seems to be a series of strange events dark and mysterious in nature. It’s up to the player to decide how things occurred using… what are explained by the game and it’s developers… as supernatural abilities.
And so Detective Prospero, also known as you, sets off. Follow a railway track to what seems to be a path to the left. You can go right through to the bridge, or you can go around. Here the very level design of the introductory moments are symbolic of the overall direction of the game. This is not a fast paced action game. This is a slow, exploration based novel-like experience where you can really choose your own pace to an overarching linearity. Introduction to the game’s narrative is summarized… by the developers… immediately.
There is no hand holding, and there are no tutorials, other than the speculation the main character displays upon seeing what is before him in the form of textual “hints”. These serve a purpose in narrative and exploration. Depending on how much you discover, the game can go on for several hours. For what the game is worth and delivers, it is worth your time, but not worth the asking price in retrospect. However, for the enjoyable time you spend playing it, take your time with the game play, as it is all about exploring the beautiful world around you, and discovering the story by your own curiosity.
Exploration and discovery. Main features of the game that come together like puzzle pieces. Find a train cart at the end of a dilapidated bridge and figure out how it was involved in a gruesome incident. Or walk right by it to see a crank that belongs to that very train cart. The more you explore, the more answers you’ll uncover. All the while putting into place mysterious puzzle pieces throughout a delightful landscape that looks so good… it does more than trick the mind.
Do not be fooled by what you see here. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is beautiful mix of vistas, falling leaves, derelict buildings, and life and death. To be ecstatic here, the surface value in all of its growth covered glory is un-fucking-real. Pardon the special praise, but this kind of near photo-realistic art is so lifelike my brain was in such disbelief it was like looking through a window. I haven’t been so excited to observe lichen on rocks before. Studio developers call it “revolutionary photogrammetry technology,” that helped Red Creek Valley become near uncanny from the main menu. If there was one great standout for this game to be remembered, it’s the quality in its visuals. The fine details of even the smallest assets are incredible. The developers strived so well to create a natural looking world, superbly imperfect in the nature of its detail.
Do not be fooled by what you read there! Despite the world being so great looking, it is has a some imperfections that added a layer of frustration to a particular part of the experience. Don’t get me wrong the puzzle based game play, and lack of handholding inspires an enjoyable independence, but unfortunately there are some level design flaws.
If I cannot find an entrance to the next chapter of the game for an extended period of time, and others have a tough time with it as well, you begin to wonder if this was the intention of the developers to make the player feel like they discovered something hard to find. I found finding the entrance to the cave section of the game a rather frustrating experience, so much so that it halted the pace of the game. Imagine, how many people might put this game down after giving up! I would have preferred some kind of puzzle or obstacle course to find the entrance instead of a barely noticeable cranny. It seemed like this was the end of the frustration for this section, yet finding the entrance was just the beginning.
The cave section of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter helps to evoke a change in mood, but contains areas that jarringly add to the narrative. The more you explore, the more answers you’ll uncover. And some answers take you on an experience that is frustratingly justified upon completion of the game. In a game that advertises it’s beautifully crafted environments, it sure didn’t spend time showing the cave section. Probably created in an attempt to add variety to the level design and emotional response. The cave section adds to the story, but feels too linear. It lacks beautiful visuals, and feels out of place with what the game is trying to express and established throughout a near perfect experience.
A cave section could’ve been done much better, and been way more grandiose. Imagine, a massive open ended cavern instead of a ordinary mine. The caves tried in some areas to create a scary scene, but it ended falling flat with what seemed to be an impossible puzzle. A common folk could just roll right through this section on their mine cart. For the most part, this section is better off left just quiet and ordinary.
A mysteriously quiet and extraordinarily crafted Red Creek Valley is home to a near perfect journey of exploration and discovery. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a tale of interpretations, a captivating experience through a charmingly surprising, and stunning world woven between nature and imagination.
Rating: Buy on sale!