In 1973, Universal Studios have released a movie titled High Plains Drifter. And while both the date and the format of the motion picture are distant to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, the basic premise of the movie is similar to the game. Both works tell a story of societal demise that is an outcome of its sinful ways. However, Ernest Tidyman’s supernatural western unravels in front of your very eyes, whereas Ethan Carter is a posthumous dissection of events that happened long before Paul Prospero’s arrival to Red Creek Valley.
Paul Prospero, the main protagonist, is a man of few words. On a rare occasion he’ll slowly dictate a conclusive monologue, but will always leave some room for you to speculate. In 2015, such treatment of players is a rarity with minimal narration and a complete absence of clues and on-screen indicators, adds to the title’s atmosphere. Yes, it’s literally a quiet walk in a park–or rather, a forest–but one that is full of twists and turns that allow you to craft the story in your own personal way. And unlike other games, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter doesn’t chain you to a single objective. It allows you to explore every corner of Red Creek Valley in whichever way you desire. And in combination with derelict buildings, remnants of industrial prosperity, and last but not least traces of occultist activity, Ethan Carter becomes more than just a game. It becomes an experience entailed by morbid and macabre atmosphere that will hold in its grasp until the very end. However, to some the end may come quicker than one could possibly expect.
My playthrough of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was fairly streamline, as not once have I spent more time than I expected on a single puzzle or investigation. And due to the ease with which I’ve uncovered the truth behind The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, I completed the game in just over two hours. Yes, it is an extremely short completion time for a $20 digital title with no profound replayability, but the completion time may vary for others. However, the change will not be drastic as the design behind both, the world and the puzzles is quiet frankly exceptional.
Red Creek Valley at first glance comes across as simple and unsophisticated world. But as you’ll travel across the numerous forests, churches, and iron mines it will slowly start to turn into a spider web like construction. And it will ultimately allow you to save minutes, if not hours of your time, as no you’ll longer be required to walk across the entire map to continue with the story. Also, the way in which you unlock the numerous passages that Red Creek Valley stores within its entrails is remarkable. Your every action within the digital world of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter ties in into a greater picture.
A successfully completed puzzle or investigation will understandably push the story forward. However, it will also spring a chain of events which will lead you straight to the next objective, while allowing you to uncover a brand new secret passage. For example, at one point towards the end of the story, the game will have you uncover a murder mystery. Which, in itself, gives you a lot of insight on the story of the game, however, the items which you have to collect in order to complete it, lead you straight to two previously blocked passages. One unlocks an industrial elevator that will allow you to track back straight to an area located near the beginning of the game. Whereas the other allows you to unlock the doors to a power station, which will then lead you towards the end-game objective. Which once accomplished, doesn’t end the game completely, as in order to reach the game’s actual ending, you need to complete all in-game puzzles and mysteries. As I’ve said numerous times now, when it comes to design and its execution, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is near impeccable. But just like every other game, it has its problems. The title’s graphical execution is definitely up to scratch, and some landscapes are definitely worthy of its own postcard. However, while being visually impressive it suffers technically.
Frame rate can drop drastically at times, especially when running after a point of interest, or when transitioning from one area to another. Also when quick saving, the game can stops completely for a brief second or two. And while all these little technical flaws can surely affect your concentration, they’re still heavily outnumbered by everything that is good about Ethan Carter. Because in the end it is competent, well designed experience that stands out from the crowd.