I played through The Vanishing of Ethan Carter on the PS4. I encountered no technical issues at all.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was released last year on PC but seeing as it’s an incredibly graphics intensive game, there was no way in hell I could run it. Billed as a immersive narrative experience based around the mystery of a missing boy, it peaked my interest and I was excited when I heard of the PS4 release. Unfortunately, I found The Vanishing of Ethan Carter to be a tremendous disappointment. It’s a game that seems to fail in everything it tries to achieve and is just utterly boring. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Ethan Carter puts you in the shoes of Paul Prospero, a paranormal detective who is drawn to Red Creek after receiving a message from Ethan Carter. When he arrives, he starts to find that possibly the whole Valley has gone crazy town bananapants in a kind of Lovecraftian nightmare, as all the residents worship some unknown God named The Sleeper.
This is no Call of Cthulu though. Red Creek Valley is a gorgeous place (there are lots of graphics here) but it’s also entirely empty. You never meet a person. Not even one person. Instead you kind of wander around a forest and a trainyard and a dam and you try and reconstruct events that have already happened. These scenes are uncovered by finding important objects in the environment. When you have found enough, you’ll be able to establish a chronology of what happened.
It all sounds interesting enough, but it’s also incredibly vague. The first thing you’ll see upon starting Ethan Carter is a message saying that the game is a ‘narrative experience that doesn’t hold your hand’. You can actually get to the end of the game without seeing any of the ‘stories’. BUT there is a block so you can’t see the ending until you’ve completed them all. So you have to complete them all anyway. So why couldn’t they have just been a little simpler to uncover. Because there is about a half an hour game here broken up by just lots of porn shots of woods.
‘A narrative experience that doesn’t hold your hand’. On one hand, that’s true. On the other, that’s complete bollocks. Ethan Carter obviously wants to tell you a story, and it obviously has a correct order for which you to view that story. So then why not just tell that story….but you know, do it in a way that kinda looks you give a toss. I thought the actual story of Ethan Carter was dull, simplistic and rather up it’s own arse. Also the ‘twist’ ending is rather obvious and has been done way way better in another video game, namely Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
This ‘narrative experience’ is just so thin. It’s not even a short story. Ethan’s family go mad. Try to kill Ethan. That’s pretty much it. So Red Creek is a barren empty place (they nailed that at least) but no one else happened up these nutcases and wondered why they’re trying to kill a boy? I mean at the end of it all, the game could be seen as a dream sequence (bleurgh) but I really don’t care enough to think about it.
How much better the game could have been if there was a stronger narrative, if the mystery was given even a little room to breathe, if there was some kind of interesting mechanic? There’s something here. The premise grabbed me , and all I’m left with after playing it is this dull empty feeling inside. It’s clear the game wanted me to feel something, but it just didn’t. I felt nothing.
What if Ethan Carter was a real game? What if Paul Prospero rode into town and had to do a real investigation, question people, examine fresh crime scenes, gather evidence – all the while knowing that a young boy was missing and in grave danger. That sounds like something I might be slightly interested in playing.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that constantly seems at odds with itself. It wants to be a thrilling, immersive narrative experience, but ends up failing miserably. Narrative experiences need some kind of direction, but here there is none, leaving a feeling that the developers were just stalling for time.
But it’s a pretty forest I guess.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter