The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Year: 2014

Developer: The Astronauts

Genre: Mistery, detective, fantasy, lovecraftian horror

Wonderful mix of contemplative walking simulator in first person view like Dear Esther (2012), and graphic adventure with strong investigative and supernatural feeling that enhances interactivity and gameplay. A real masterpiece with a Lovecraftian suggestive title that reveals itself as a double metaphor.

On one side it is a nostalgic tribute to the fantastic storytelling of old pulp magazines, such as Weird Tales or Amazing Stories; more generally it’s a tribute to the power of imagination and the art of writing as refuges from a miserable reality. It’s a rare case of crossover of game and literature, a metaphor about writing, where reality mixes with fiction. On the other side, it is a merciless analisys about ignorance, insensitivity, provincialism, obscurantism, human degradation.

You are a paranormal investigator whose goal is to understand what happened to Ethan, a young writer and dreamer who had the bad luck to be born in a petty and ignorant family. Strangely you will be involved in fantastic mini stories (or mini games) that seem to have nothing to do with your research…

Storytelling is achieved through voice acted thoughts of main character and through flashbacks you can access only after collecting clues and recostructing past events through mechanics reminding me of Rocksteady’s Batman. The story has something of an elegiac and visionary tale of mistery and supernatural reminding of Lovecraft novels.

Gameplay is centered around exploration, investigation, collection of clues, environmental puzzles. Worth of mention: the absence of UI and the fluttering words reminding of Tale of Tales The Path (2009) and Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch (2017).

We forgive it the poetic idealization of childhood, which is depicted as a state of purity in contrast to the degradation of the surrounding adult world, well symbolized by rusty cars, deserted railway lines, crumbling houses, abandoned dams, desolate churches and cemeteries, as well as by the petty Ethan’s family. While walking across Red Creek Valley you can feel all the weight of degradation and time passing; great expressive art here!

Graphics is amazing and able to paint the contrasts of a misleading sunny nature governed by entropy, and the inexorable time flow that hides unspeakable tragedies. Exploring the photorealistic scenarios is a sort of intimate and poetic experience. I suggest to play original version because of its better atmosphere. In the Redux version, ported to Unreal Engine 4, the colorful romantic sceneries are sacrificed for a better but colder graphic realism. There is also a VR edition for PC only.

Rating: 97/100    (Info about rating)

5 thoughts on “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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