This game is gorgeous, honestly it is. If a painting were to describe a majestic landscape, or a hollowed out tomb in real life, then The Vanishing of Ethan Carter really pulls it off. The greenery is diverse and well placed. The bricks could almost rub red off onto your hand. Unfortunately looks don’t completely make a game, and Ethan Carter falls a tad short in some other areas.
First off is length. Now I’m not an observer of games having to take some arbitrary length of time to impress me. My singular and only interest in a game is how much enjoyment I get out of it, and I have had games last a single hour that landed themselves in my top twenty just from that (Gone Home). It’s about the emotional feeling, whether it’s tense, exhilaration, adrenaline or something else.
Carter is good at being tense. Tense as in when you walk through the abandoned churches and hallowed mines you never know quite what is going to happen. That’s where it stopped though, there is no real payoff. Usually you’ll get a jump scare or a mystery or two. You do get a jump scare once, but that’s it, and it’s only in one area. At least you get mysteries aplenty, but then there’s that…
Ethan Carter has a preface screen that says something to the effect of it being “A puzzle game that doesn’t hold your hand”. Damn right it doesn’t. You can walk through literally the entire game and solve just the ending two puzzles, bypassing the bulk of this already-small games’ content. Some might enjoy the challenge of digging into every corner and crack to find each puzzle, much less learn to figure them out, but it’s tedious! I spent half an hour trying to solve just one puzzle until I figured out the “solution” was in an entirely different house from where the puzzle was. It felt confusing, not just “Not holding my hand” but plain confusing.
Once I looked at a few guides online and figured some puzzles out, I got to progress through the bulk of the experience. The way you can see murders pan out is fairly intriguing, and does a reasonably good job at describing the different characters as you follow their story.
Those are some of the puzzles. A few of the others, which I would describe as environmental interactions more than puzzles, seemed almost completely unrelated to the story of the game. And since they seemed that way to me, it made piecing together the whole of the story quite a challenging affair. For those who’ve played, the squid bit through me for a loop, and that wasn’t the only thing.
All while this is going on you are traversing through glorious vistas, not the most amazing set pieces I have ever seen, but the best simple asset graphics for sure. No towering skyscrapers, but the grass, the rocks, the simple buildings- all of it was very attractive to look at. But what stitched it together was like four different, very very different, gameplay mechanics and puzzles. One part played like a survival horror game, and another would be pure detective work. It felt like three or four ideas for games or mechanics that were thrown into one, and then had this breathtaking cover thrown onto it.
Overall Ethan Carther was an interesting experience, but I wouldn’t call it fun, exciting, or challenging. What I would say it has is intrigue, and if you like to explore and question then this will probably prove a fun romp, though keep in mind a two or three hour one.