Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

What do you get when you cross Call of Duty’s 360 no scoping with Forza’s fast paced track racing? Well, you’ll get something that doesn’t even begin to resemble The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a prime example of how to do point and click narratives correctly. There is very little hand holding here, although I think it is important to note that the developers, The Astronauts, claim there is no hand holding at all. We’ll get more into that in the gameplay section of this review, but for now let me just say there is a little bit of hand holding, but not much. The game leaves it to the player to figure out what to do with clues and puzzles. It’s up to the player to discern what type of puzzle is being presented before leaving it to the player to figure out a solution to said puzzle. It’s a refreshing experience that reminds me that gamers are intelligent and capable of sentient thought. So let’s roll into this, shall we?

Gameplay

It’s short but satisfying. I completed the story in approximately 3 hours – and that’s including many stops to appreciate the scenery.

What the game does right is the puzzle mechanics. As stated above, the game leaves it to you to figure almost everything out on your own. It does give you a bit of nudge from time to time in the form of swirling words describing the object you are looking for. As you focus your view towards the location of that object the words coalesce in the center of the screen giving you the option to hold the action button to use your supernatural ability to “sense” exactly where it is. This is the little bit of hand holding I spoke of earlier.

It’s hard to say whether I would have preferred this directing of the player to be removed or not due to the nature of some of the puzzles and the locations of certain objects necessary to complete the puzzles. Some of the objects would be extremely difficult to find without this sense ability. It may have been a design decision to keep the pace moving forward rather than letting the player get stuck trying to figure out what he or she is actually looking for in the first place.

The murder scenes you must solve involve finding these objects and putting them back where they were at the time of the murder and, once completed, you will see up to 5 scenes vaguely showing how the murder happened. It is up to you to discern what these “still moments in time” mean in the overall bigger picture of the murder. Once you’ve done this it is your task to tag each portion of the scene in a specific chronological order from first to last. If you’re correct, the visualize key will allow you to see exactly how the crime played out from start to finish. If your chronological order is not correct, the visualization is cut short and you must reorder the tags before proceeding. The developers were careful to provide enough clues for you to figure this out on your own without any help from the game.

This is what I find so refreshing about this game – it doesn’t assume you’re stupid and it doesn’t volunteer too much information to help you along. After all, you have to solve a murder, and in reality the scene of the crime doesn’t provide a great big yellow arrow pointing to the solution or a note detailing the answers to any and all questions you may have as the detective on scene.

The only real drawback for me is the length of the game. As stated, I completed the story in approximately 3 hours. The refreshing nature of the mechanics, and the $20 price tag, almost demand a longer and meatier story. I would very much like to see a free content patch with a new story and new puzzles/murders to solve. Right now, I think $20 is a little too much for the amount of content you’re getting.

Graphics

The Astronauts used a relatively new technique called Photogrammetry. This is a process that even you can try on your iOS or Android devices right now with an app called 123D Catch (No endorsement or sponsorship has been made by the developers of this app). The process involves taking several photos of an object from every direction and letting a computer program extrapolate a 3D model, complete with textures, of that object. The process may sound like it is rife with potential errors, however, if done correctly (and by that I mean by feeding the program enough photographic data), the result is actually quite amazing.

Visually this game shines brightly. Building on the latest version of the Unreal 3 engine – the same engine used for games like The Ball and Deus Ex: Human Revolution – combined with the Photogrammetry technique, this game looks gorgeous. You can see for yourself in this interactive screen shot gallery.

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Audio

Audio is another important factor for immersing the player in a narrative experience. The content and quality of the game’s sound can make or break a game. Fortunately, The Astronauts have done a fantastic job with the audio. The BG music is calming and soothing at points, while being dark and disturbing at others. The music succeeds in setting a proper mood throughout the entire game.

Ambient audio wasn’t spared either – from the sounds of birds whistling, to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, the developers really have outdone themselves in this category. I would even go so far as to say the audio rivals what DICE’s audio engineering team can do in terms of quality. You won’t hear any large explosions in this game but the quality is there.

Story

I don’t want to go too far into this category because doing so will risk spoiling it for you, but I will say the story in this game is rather short. However, in a way, it leaves it open for sequels or add on content… and in another way it doesn’t. You’ll just have to play it, or watch a let’s play of it, to find out. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but I’m sure you can find a let’s play or a spoiler-full summary somewhere online. The real question is this: Did I find the story satisfying despite it’s short length? The answer to that is, in a lot of ways I did, but in some ways I wish they would have fleshed it out more. That’s probably just the part of me that enjoys very lengthy games like Fallout 3. There’s just something about getting a few hundred hours of gameplay out of a single game (by playing several playthroughs, each time making different choices) that makes me feel I’m getting the better end of that transaction.

Conclusion

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that just looks and sounds beautiful while at the same time talking to you like you are a sentient adult* capable of deducing for yourself. It looked at other games in the genre and decided it had a lot more faith in the intelligence of it’s player base. Where other games may insult the player, this game says “Go on, man. You’re smart. You got this!”

 

 

 


 

 

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