“Another Story For Another Day”
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter starts with a message that sums up what’s about to unfold perfectly, “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.” It’s a warning for what lies ahead. Ethan Carter is a game that pays more attention to tone, sense of freedom, and environmental cues than it does the player. It has more important things on the agenda than leading you in the right direction around every bend. Within its lenient trust, Ethan Carter is able to distance itself from a lot of games, for both better and worse.
Following the opening words of precaution, you’re dropped directly into the center of a peculiar unfolding mystery. You assume the role of Paul Prospero, a psychic detective on the trail of a missing boy in backcountry Wisconsin. Prospero makes his way through visually stunning landscapes, murmuring poetic reflections as he goes. The case leads to a quiet riverside town, once a flourishing mining community, yet everything’s not what it seems.The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a complex mystery in and of itself. It’s not your everyday type of exploratory adventure, rather one daring enough to rely on world-building over gameplay. The game’s main mechanic is Prospero’s supernatural ability, that of which allows him to see into the past and piece together fragments of disjointed events. These encounters make up the meat of Ethan Carter’s puzzles, rewarding you with bits of backstory, once complete. Through all these interactions, Ethan Carter refuses to hold your hand. From the moment you enter the eerie valley, you’re met with an intimidating sense of freedom. There are no hints and no map to lead you in the right direction, leaving players to their own logic when pacing up and down the clue ridden path.
The implementation of this formula leads to both satisfying resolution and incoherent conclusion. The puzzles aren’t organized in a linear order, and can be uncovered completely out of synchronization. Though this certainly contributes to the game’s desirable sense of freedom, it tears down a bit of the narrative’s strength. It will absolutely vary for each player, as some will experience it exactly as intended, while others will wander through the game’s gorgeous environment overburdened with helplessness. I fall somewhere between the two variants. Several puzzles left me struggling to make sense of the logical order in which events played out. It wasn’t until the game reached its conclusion, I was able to come to my own closure, yet even at that I was left yearning for more. The story is intriguing, and packed with outstanding world-building and strong writing. Puzzles are the narrative driving force of course, but the end result is much more satisfying than the actual participation. The puzzles are where Ethan Carter tends to lack lasting impression, in an otherwise thought-provoking experience.The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is at its best when basking in the extraordinary sense of place it so meticulously crafts. From the jump, you can wander anywhere your heart desires, without a single loading screen to break the immersion. The game looks spectacular as well. My three-hour or so journey with Ethan Carter consistently took my breath away. The world is packed with believable detail and tidbits of information that demand uncovering. All of which are tucked away in fantastic looking environments, from the sprawling forests and valleys to abandon buildings. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is among some of the most visually impressive games I’ve ever played.
The outstanding visuals and intriguing mysteries formed to create a game that stuck with me as I attempted to draw my own conclusions. It’s been days since I’ve completed the game and I’m still trying to put my finger on the narrative’s over arching purpose. All the necessary pieces are there, though slightly discombobulated in their presentation. It ends on somewhat conflicting terms as well, that of which will rub each player differently. The subject matter isn’t meant to come across as black and white, using vague, yet far-reaching themes such as imagination and loneliness. It wrestles with these complex themes in a dedicated and unpredictable fashion, resulting in some of the game’s stronger moments.Conclusion: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter on PS4 is essentially identical to the game that launched on PC in late 2014. It successfully brings the same experience to a fresh audience, with gorgeous visuals and thought-provoking mysteries to boot. Though it’s apparent there’s potential that remains untapped, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter delivers an intriguing experience, that if nothing else, flourishes in refusing to hold your hand.
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