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Snap Judgment – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (PS4)

Creaking forest of maple and spruce, eerie music, scant rays of light piercing the thick canopy to reveal suspended motes of dust — that’s one of the many incredibly detailed areas presented in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a PC game that was just ported and released on PS4 by The Astronauts.  Atmosphere is perhaps the single greatest achievement in this title, which is saying something considering how strong all the other elements are.  This is not only achieved through near-photorealistic graphics (seriously, wow), but also through great sound design.  Not just from the environmental sounds, like the trees, but also from your lonely footfalls.

Ethan Carter is a game about a supernatural investigator named Paul Prospero who has traveled to the rural town of Red Creek Valley in northern Pennsylvania because of a letter he received from the eponymous character, a curious and imaginative young boy — two qualities his family has been none to keen to encourage.  In Ethan’s curiosity, he accidentally awakens a dark entity named The Sleeper, who seems to require the boy’s sacrifice so it can emerge from whatever plane it is bound to, an entity with the power to dominate the thoughts and actions of the adults in Ethan’s life, driving them towards this singular goal.  Ethan is not safe.

Setting the tone, the opening narration states:

Ethan Carter I didn’t know.  But he knew who I was.  When the police won’t help you, and the priests don’t believe you, you call on Paul Prospero.  You call on me.  If you’re a kid like Ethan, you write.  Plenty do.  Ethan’s letter started out just like any other fan mail, but soon there were mentions of things no little boy should know about.  There are places that exist that very few people can see.  Ethan could have drawn a map.  I hadn’t entered Red Creek Valley yet, but already I could feel its darkness reaching for me.  Finding Ethan Carter wasn’t going to be as easy as knocking on his door.  I was too late for that.  To find Ethan, I had to figure out what this place was trying to hide from me.

From there, you’re dropped on the railroad tracks leading to Red Creek Valley, into a large open world with no loading screens.  As you solve various mysteries (read: puzzles) in this world, often using Prospero’s supernatural sensitivity, and discover new areas ranging from abandoned homes to a dark network of mines, Prospero continues to narrate with the intonations of a hardened, film noir-esque private investigator who’s seen more than his fair share.  But there is no hand holding; in fact, the game warns you of as much from the start: “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.”  With the exception of action prompts when you approach objects, there is no radar pointing you to your next objective, no HUD or journal explaining what you’ve accomplished.  And because of the openness of the world, you can solve the mysteries in almost any order you like.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter should take about five hours to fully complete, discovering every secret and truth Red Creek Valley has to hide.  At $19.99, however, this game is worth every penny and more.  As I’ve remarked before, I remain enthralled with games like this that continue to push the art forward.  This has easily been one of my favorite experiences, joining titles like The Last of UsJourney, and Child of Light for its accomplishments.  A+

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Written by Michael

21 July 2015 at 1:09 pm