Fortunately, I’ve been one of the lucky few who has been playing video games since the early origins of their conception. For instance, playing the numbers, dollars and X’s that comprised Space Invaders on the Sinclair ZX80 certainly boosted my vocabulary and I rarely smelt the stench of Pong on the Atari 2600; instead enjoying its basic blocks of bouncing fun. It doesn’t really matter though for how long you’ve been a gamer, for as long as you have been playing, you’ll always come across a title that sticks with you, or becomes so synonymous, that its name will always be instantly recognisable to you; even if you’ve never played the game yourself. One such game, for me at least, comes in the form of The Astronauts’ The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Originally released in 2014 on PC, with subsequent releases on the PS4 and Xbox One consoles, this is a game that I have never played, but for some reason, is a title that I instantly recognise. However, now is my chance to investigate the strange goings-on that surround Ethan, as the game now re-appears to make a release upon the Nintendo Switch.
The game sees you playing the role of Paul Prospero and even though he sounds like a character who could be lifted straight from the world of Marvel, he is in fact a private investigator. After receiving a mysterious letter from a young boy, Ethan Carter, that asks for help, you travel to the serenity of Red Creek Valley in order to investigate a series of strange goings-on that lurk beneath the beauty of your location. As far as the settings or story goes, that’s all I’m giving away as the central core of the gameplay revolves around discovering the secrets that unveil before you. The game plays primarily as a first-person walking simulator, which sees you investigate the open-world setting of Red Creek Valley as you build up a series of clues and solve a variety of puzzles to piece together the rather exemplary narrative behind the story.
The first thing the game offers you, is the fact that this is a title that gives you nothing and leaves you to your own devices. There’s no guidance or hand-holding here and in fact, for the unwary, can be a daunting game when you first start playing. Sure, you’ll find things as you investigate your surroundings, but the game will never tell you if you’ve missed anything or where the clues you find lead to. It’s completely up to you to figure out everything that the game holds. In terms of this, it can be a very slow burner, taking some time to learn how it plays or what you need to be doing. However, once you start to put together the pieces of your discoveries, everything begins to click into place and leads to a pace that draws you into its dark and foreboding tale.
There’s no combat or jump-scare horror here, although there are tones of the paranormal with how the game plays out. This mainly comes in the form of your ability to see another dimension of past actions; allowing you to piece together some of the clues you may find and the circumstances around their being. This ability allows you to create scenes and solve some of the mysteries that you come across; mainly in the form of a series of grisly murders that coincide with the disappearance that your are investigating. For the most part, solving the clues and puzzles you find aren’t too taxing; although there can be one or two that do require some thought. However, this largely depends on you finding all of the clues that relate to the pieces of the jigsaw you are trying to build.
This in itself requires you to thoroughly search all of your surroundings, as things can easily be missed if you’re not careful. In turn, this can create a game that involves a lot of back-tracking to various places as you try and find that one elusive missing piece to solving the next step of the story. However, you feel a real sense of achievement when you finally begin to piece everything together and the narrative begins to push ever deeper into the, quite frankly, addictive nature of its story. The majority of interactions within the game comes in the form of varying options that display themselves when you approach a specific object. You can pick up certain items, investigate them, read them and even keep them for later use. Some of them also trigger a cut-scene of sorts that shows you locations or events that revolve around their being. Figuring out how to best use each item or in what order they place within the puzzle requires some thought and a thoroughness rarely found in many games.
However, this is all helped with the beautiful presentation of Red Creek Valley. The graphics here are gorgeous, even when playing with the Switch undocked. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that this game is easily one of the best looking Switch games I have come across to date. The scenery stretches for as far as the eye can see, as a central river flows serenely and the grasslands sway in the wind. It promotes a feeling of wanting to explore everything here, rather than making it a chore. Saying that though, apart from its gripping story and searching for clues, there really isn’t anything else to do around here. This is simply a walking simulator at heart and its pacing may not suit some, but if you are on the fence, then the investment you put into it does produce some pleasing results and rewards you with a story that eventually draws you in.
Overall, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that has one, and one only, purpose which is to tell a gripping tale. If you’re looking for fast-paced excitement or adrenaline-fuelled action, then you need to look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a video game that leaves you to your own devices and leads you to a story that can rival any best-selling novel, then you’ll have a wonderful time exploring the regions of Red Creek Valley. Yes, it is slow-paced and difficult to get into at first, but stick with it and it will eventually become a game that stays with you for life. It’s also a beautiful game to look at and you’ll often find yourself stopping and staring at the views before you as the sunset glimmers through waving branches or at the church that stands tall across the bridge. It’s also a game that suits a casual play-style perfectly, making this an ideal title for that daily commute; although just be careful you don’t miss your stop, as once the story gets a grip of you, you’ll find its world hard to pull away from; leaving the real-world around you redundant in its wake as it vanishes like Ethan did.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 7/10
User Review( votes)
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter reappears on the Nintendo Switch with a narrative-driven, walking simulator that burns slowly, but shines brightly.