by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
A Story Worth Experiencing
For a long time when I was younger I was an avid console gamer for a number of reasons. I still buy and love my consoles, but perhaps the most substantial reason that I’ve largely converted to a PC-focused consumer is the jaw-dropping breadth of game genres. One of those genres that just don’t get much spotlight on consoles is the interactive narrative, games that aren’t as concerned with deep and tight gameplay mechanics as they are with pulling you into their world and taking you for a ride. Think the love-child of traditional video games and movies. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter by studio The Astronauts is a fine example of how enjoyable these types of titles can be when they aren’t ashamed of what they are and embrace the uniqueness inherent in their relatively niche genre.
Being a narratively-driven game, the overall success of Ethan Carter is largely dependent on whether or not it actually has a story interesting enough to support the weight of the entire experience. Thankfully it does, spinning a tale equal parts Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft that kept my attention through final twist. Players are dropped into the shoes of protagonist Paul Prospero, an investigator of everything paranormal and strange. While Prospero’s seen quite a bit throughout his (assumedly) already long career, he’s never seen anything quite like the case of young Ethan Carter.
Far from just a normal kid, Ethan possesses the interesting and frequently spooky ability to see hidden, dark, twisted things in our world. He’d lived with it well enough most of his time, but one day he made an oops and accidentally opened a link between our world and another dimension. From this other dimension a creature comes through that possesses his family and turns them violently against each other. Now it’s Prospero’s job to piece together what happened to each of Ethan’s family members in the fictional Red Creek Valley. It’s something much in the vein of Supernatural or Twin Peaks, and it does a nice job of balancing a fairly serious tone with not taking itself entirely too seriously.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter isn’t a TV show though, and thus needs to boast solid gameplay elements along with its story to succeed- in this case breaking down crime scenes through environmental and object. Though varied in substance and style, most of the puzzles boil down to similar mechanics: find a murder victim/family member of Ethan’s and find objects in the area that gives insight into what happened. Once you find/place everything you need to you will be given a number of snapshots from the past when the event happened and need to figure out which order they go in. Do that and you will be able to look into the past and see a replay of exactly what happened, solving the crime and bringing you closer to what befell young Ethan Carter.
Looks fantastic, has an engaging story, and mixes its puzzles, characterization, and plot nicely.
No real longevity after being completed once, and the lack of direction can occasionally kill the pacing and tone.