02nd Feb2018

‘The Vanishing of Ethan Carter’ Review (Xbox One)

by Emma Rees

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter first released in 2014 on the Windows platform. A Redux version was released in 2015 for Windows, and later, on the PS4. The Redux version , as it is known, was made in the Unreal 4 engine which has allowed for improved graphics. Other notable tweaks include an improved save system and no need for backtracking at the end. Several bugs were fixed and small adjustments were made in some areas to lessen frustration. It’s taken a few years but now you can experience it enhanced for the Xbox One.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a narrative horror game which is part Walking Simulator and has been inspired by horror writers such as H.P Lovecraft.

You play as ‘Paul Prospero’, a detective who has come to Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin, to investigate the disappearance of a boy called Ethan. It just so happens that Prospero is no ordinary detective and possesses supernatural abilities which help him to solve crimes. Not only can he sense the whereabouts of missing objects, he can focus on victims and release ‘memories’ of scenes from the crime. These memories appear as transparent still images, almost like ghosts who have been frozen in time. It is from these that Prospero can piece together events in chronological order.

Prospero will find several murder victims on his investigation, all of which will require searching for clues. Clues can be inspected and Prospero’s thoughts and deductions will float around it, fading in and out as he thinks. Some clues need others to have been inspected before a conclusion can be reached about it. Once a conclusion has been reached Prospero can use his senses to make new connections. It doesn’t take long for him to find out that something terrible was unleashed in Red Creek Valley.

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Rushing through the world is not recommended as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is very much a game about exploration. From the very start, a message tells you that this is a game that will ‘not hold your hand’. Everything is left for you to discover and work out for yourself at your own pace. There’s nothing telling you to ‘go here next’ and absolutely nothing stopping you from returning to a spot later. There’s also stories and memories to discover which have been left behind by Ethan. The more you discover about Ethan and the people he interacted with, the more you will feel for him and want to discover the truth. Newspaper clippings can also be found which will give snippets of insight into the lore.

Aside from murders and hidden stories, there’s also a few puzzles to solve which are not particularly difficult but are very creative. One of them involves you entering a house and figuring out which room goes where. If you get it correct, you can walk into the room and it will stay there but if you walk into a wrongly placed room you will be transported back to the start.

The environments themselves are absolutely breathtaking. Sunlight filters through the trees of the lush forest and lakes glisten in front of beautiful vistas. Yet despite the surrounding beauty, there lurks an ever present sense of loneliness and unease. Murder victims lay where they fell, there’s not a living soul to be found and old, dilapidated houses hold nothing but memories.

The world is completely seamless and is a joy to explore. Although, it is mainly forest there’s also a graveyard and a mine to investigate. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter isn’t a horror in the sense that you can get killed or jumped at any moment, the horror is in the atmosphere, the unfolding story and the witnessing of terrible murders. There is, however, a terrifying section down in the mines which is best left unspoilt.

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The harmonic musical score further helps to set the tone, adjusting to convey mood and emotions. And what an emotional game this is!

The conclusion to each murder and the discovery of each new memory leaves you wondering what happened next and where Ethan went, which will keep you hooked until completion. The events aren’t just horrifying; they’re sad and despairful, but make you empathise with the characters at the same time. All of it leads to a clever but emotional twist at the end which is unforgettable.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a short game which can be completed in approximately four hours, but can be longer depending on how much time you spend exploring and solving the murders. If, after finishing it, you can’t get enough of the stunning, picturesque environments, you can always revisit in the newly implemented ‘Free Roam’ mode. It is a game that will stick with you whether you’re experiencing it for the first or second time.

***** 5/5

Developed and published by The Astronauts, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is available to download now on Xbox One.

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