This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).
Time played: 4 hours
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is SO GOOD.
I won this game last year in a raffle that Pam (of Cannot Be Tamed) ran on her blog, and I’d been intimidated by the probability that it would wreck my machine. I finally upgraded a few months ago, so when I had enough download limit left to install it, I plunged in. And Oh My Goodness was it worth it.
It’s best not to learn much about the story before you go into it, because it unfolds so well, and experiencing it for yourself is simply amazing. All you need to know is that you are an occult investigator, and you have been called in to solve the mystery of what happened to Ethan Carter. It is spooky, but not horror. The Lovecraftian touches raise the stakes and elevate the tension, but are not intrusive enough to take over the story.
The graphics are simply incredible. I believe that they used some new technique to achieve photorealistic environmental graphics, and although the people are not as perfectly represented, they are done well enough that they seem natural.
The game is broken up into chapters, small self-contained stories that are also puzzles, which ask you to recreate the events from evidence found around the area and using your special ghost sight. Each story is stumbled upon individually, and while I think they can be done in any order if you are an explorer (except the last part), solving each one gives clues as to where the next one can be found. It all follows a loose narrative, too, so even though you can easily put the story together in hindsight, the more you do them “in order” the more sense it makes as you progress.
Once you have access to the final part, you are presented with a map of the game world and the locations of the stories out in the wild. You need to complete them all before you can finish the game, and I was very impressed with the way the designers handled it.
The ending was way more satisfying than I had thought possible. So many games I’ve played recently have been making me angry with the way they finish the plot, but Ethan Carter was just thought-provoking and sad. There were some homophobic slurs at the end, which I found shocking because there was no justification nor relevance to it. It was completely out of place, even in the context of the situation. I can understand wanting to show how mean and intolerant a character is, but there were so many other options to draw upon that would have made more sense. It’s the only bit of writing that I have a problem with.
It’s short, extremely well executed, and I cannot recommend this game enough.
Thank you Pam!