“This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand”

This is the first sentence you’re greeted with when you start to play The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.  My first thought when I read this was, are they saying it because it’s difficult or are they saying it to cover themselves if it’s bad?

I’ll touch on this a little later.

You play the role of Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator, who receives a fan letter from 12 year old Ethan Carter.  Paul arrives in Red Creek, a town that’s been abandoned for over a decade.

Along the way, you’ll realise that all was not well in this town and in order to find Ethan, you’ll have to solve many murders and puzzles.

You start your adventure in an abandoned railroad tunnel near a forest.  As I emerged from the tunnel, I was blown away with how this game looked.  The level of detail was amazing.  From the swaying grass, to the moss on the rocks and even down to the way the wooden sleepers looked on the track.  For the first 10 to 15 minutes I was just exploring the environment and taking in the scenery.

From the very beginning of the game, you’re not given any specific goal or mission.  As the player, it’s your job to explore and trust me, you’ll be doing plenty of that.  In order to solve each of the crime scenes or puzzles, you’ll have to explore every square inch of this environment.  However, without any instructions, it’s very easy to not fully understand how this game works at first.  In fact, for the first hour or so, I didn’t even realise there was a ‘run’ button.

It’s not long before you come across your first puzzle in the forest, which is a series of traps.  Now in order to solve the crimes or puzzles in this game, there’s a certain number of objects that you have to discover in order to replay the scene or crime.  Once you’ve collected or discovered the specific objects, Paul is able to recreate the scene to discover what happened.  And this is where I feel the game ‘cheated’ a little.  For the most part, the majority of the objects aren’t that hard to find but there were one or two that I thought “How was I meant to find that?!”
Unfortunately, when the scene was recreated, I found that the the character modelling didn’t really match the meticulous environments though.

This adventure will take you to many different environments such as a forest, abandoned houses, a mine and even a spaceship (that wasn’t a spoiler, you see the spaceship in the launch trailer).

There isn’t a lot of dialogue in this game though, apart from the odd thought that Paul has and the conversations that take place when a scene is recreated.  The only sound that’s constant through-out the entire game was the gentle background music.

So, what did I actually think of the game or ‘narrative experience’ as a whole?  I felt that this was the sort of game I appreciated after I’d completed it.  Once I saw the ending and how everything fit together, any frustration I had with the lack of guidance or how long it took me to solve a specific puzzle had subsided.  As sceptical as I was when I saw the first sentence of the game, I understood what the developers were trying to achieve once I’d completed the story.

The issue that did remain however, is the length and cost of the game.  I finished the game within 4-5 hours, which isn’t long.  And at a cost of AU$29, that’s also not cheap.  At the end of the day, do you want to part with that amount of cash for a game that’ll last you an afternoon?