Although released back in September of last year for PC, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has finally made its way onto the PlayStation 4. This updated console release adds Unreal Engine 4 support, giving this rendition of Ethan Carter a different feeling to the original PC release. Is it worth stepping back into Paul Prospero’s shoes for one last walk through Red Creek Valley, or is this one an aimless venture?
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter opens with the player assuming the role of one Paul Prospero, a private investigator that’s fond of the occult and supernatural who has been tasked with finding the titular Ethan Carter. While in his shoes which you won’t get to see, as there’s never an actual point where you get to see what the main character actually looks like, you’ll be taking a trip through Red Creek Valley to discover just what went down over those pas few crucial hours.
Red Creek Valley is an amazing visual tour-de-force. You could stop at any point of exploring the valley and come across a spectacle worthy of becoming one of those motivational poster. If I were to create a poster based on what I had seen and experienced in Ethan Carter, it would probably be one word: perseverance. Even without a clear distinction about what happened to the missing Ethan Carter, the main character never gives up in his search, even amidst the serene beauty that hides something more ominous just out of sight.
Second to the visual spectacle of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the soundtrack, composed by Mikolai Stroinski. The soundtrack varies from calming ambient sounds and natural instruments to more gothic chants and tones not unlike those you’d hear backing a horror movie. Even as I pen this review, I have the soundtrack going on, long after I’ve finished the title simply because it’s such a great soundtrack to lose yourself and study or work to. Ethan’s theme is a somber piano tune that sets up the tone for the rest of the game.
If you were to break down The Vanishing of Ethan Carter into the most basic of gameplay tenets, the bulk of the game is spent exploring the beautiful wilderness of Red Creek Valley in a fairly non-linear fashion. The numerous events and ‘side quests’ that dot the landscape are mostly optional and could easily be overlooked without a keen eye. By the time I saw the story to its conclusion, there were three unique stories that I had missed without having a watchful eye, including one that involved chasing an astronaut through the woods, something that would certainly be amiss in any other story.
When you come across a scene that proves to be something of interest, say a pool of blood and trails leading away from a set of train tracks, it’s time to put Mr. Prospero’s detective skills to the test. Points of interest have to be deduced and uncovered before the player can proceed. After discovering just all that transpired, next is to deduce how the events took place in a chronological order. Discovering the logical progression with advance bits of character dialogue and actions, so there is instant feedback where the scene abruptly ends if you choose the order incorrectly.
What makes Ethan Carter’s story so charming and memorable is how non-linear the story is presented. Throughout normal exploration, very little of the story is fleshed out. Instead, it’s through the clever use of discarded notes or newspaper clippings that help to fill out some of the occult story. With events taking place out of chronological order throughout much of the story, it’s up to the player to decide upon just how Ethan disappeared and what happened in the times that followed.
All is not as it seems in Red Creek Valley, as its evident quite early on in the story about some supernatural forces at work. An unknown force known as The Sleeper seems to have its grasps upon the residents of Red Creek Valley, driving them to madness at the complete loss of sanity. References to various occult groups and even the famous works of HP Lovecraft are easily seen in the influence for the story behind The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Even when I had thought that I had the gist of the story figured out, often a twist popped up out of nowhere that made me rethink my approach.
Where Ethan Carter falls short is ultimately with its length. Just as I was getting into the thick of the story and finally uncovering just what happened to the young Ethan Carter, the story hastily moved towards its conclusion. My trek through Red Creek Valley barely breached the five hour mark, even with looking to uncover the other puzzles that I had missed during my first round of exploration.
Overall, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a phenomenal detective story that will keep the player guessing. Even without the unique approach to storytelling and the search for the young Ethan Carter, walking through Red River Valley is an experience unlike anything else on the PlayStation 4.