So, it’s finally here. After originally releasing all the way back in 2014 on PC, and having made an appearance on PS4 in the time since, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has finally made its way over to Xbox One. But has it been worth the wait for this ‘walking simulator’ styled horror adventure game, or are we in for a disappointing ride?
Throughout the game, players take on the role of Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator who journeys to the picturesque setting of Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin after he receives a plea-filled letter from 12-year old Ethan Carter. Upon arriving in the quiet mining village, it becomes obvious that things aren’t quite right, and it doesn’t take long before you find yourself walking into the blood-soaked path of the first Carter family victim to fall to the malevolent spirit – known as the Sleeper – that is plaguing the family.
One of the first things that I noticed during my time with the game however wasn’t the story or the gameplay mechanics, but rather just how beautiful the setting for the game, Red Creek Valley, looks. Whilst the meat of the game is of course the story that plays out as you progress, there have been numerous times in which I found myself simply wandering off in a random direction just to gaze at the natural beauty of the game world. A big reason for that is also down to the fact that from the first steps, players are free to go anywhere they wish thanks to the completely open-world environment that’s provided to explore.
For me this made for a rather unique experience, as even though I enjoyed being able to go forward and progress at my own pace, getting lost was a problem that occurred several times and often caused me the need to backtrack to find particular points of interest within the story. Although backtracking is never an enjoyable task in any game, it’s nice to see a game so similar to many ‘walking simulators’ given an open-world setting rather than tie players to a strictly linear path – and it’s not like you don’t have an impeccable view to gaze upon whilst you wander.
Back to the story though and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter provides a strong showing. To progress through the game, players must search through the clues in each area of the different murders, before using the paranormal abilities of the protagonist to put together what happened. This is done by piecing together memory fragments in the correct order and doing this solves the mystery of how each character died, which in turn allows players to progress on with the main objective of hunting down Ethan Carter.
If you’re a fan of challenging adventures, then it’s likely that this won’t be the one you’re looking for, as the only real test comes in the form of finding each area of interest, and correctly numbering the rather obvious steps in which each murder took place. Those wanting a quality story however will certainly enjoy the bite-sized pieces of backstory that accompany each solved murder.
Although it will largely depend on how thoroughly you comb each area for the answers, the overall length of the game is really no more than two to three hours at a push, so again if you’re interested in something which you can really sink some time in to, then you’d be best searching elsewhere. Despite Ethan Carter being an overly short experience, there’s no denying there’s quality storytelling involved though.
If I was to be picky, it would have been quite nice to see some different methods used to solve each murder, rather than simply searching each area and following the memory fragments. However, with the game only short in length, you’ll be finished with the story before things ever become too repetitive or tiresome to really notice.
To bring The Vanishing of Ethan Carter into context, it’s very much the type of experience you could expect to find if you mixed the paranormal abilities seen in Murdered: Soul Suspect, with the open nature of Gone Home – albeit in a much larger world. If that sounds like your sort of thing, then you can expect an enjoyable experience, but you’ll need plenty of patience and an ability to hold off that screenshot button every five seconds if you want to play the game the way it’s intended.
On that note though, there is one thing that can be found in the Xbox One version of the game that differs to those released on PC and PS4, and it’s good news for those who simply want to marvel at its beauty.
If you’ve finished up with the story, then there’s no reason not to dive back in once more with the new Free Roam option. This is entirely exclusive to the Xbox One version of the game, and here players can enjoy a walk through Red Creek Valley without any of the blood, horror or puzzles that come as part of the main story. Taking a wander around what is genuinely one of the most eye-catching surroundings you’ll find in any title available on Xbox, is a joy. There’s nothing to do other than that of course, so if you were hoping to find a little extra to the story then you’re out of luck, but whilst I’d usually find no use for such a mode, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is certainly a game that deserves a good look around, even if it’s just to appreciate the effort and detail put into the design.
Overall and although it may not be the most action-packed adventure out there, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is without a doubt a fantastic game. With a nice short, sharp and enticing story, a truly colourful and beautifully realised setting and an achievement list you’ll have mopped up within a few hours, there are many reasons you’ll want to add this fine story adventure to your must play list.