In 2014, PC gamers had the pleasure of playing The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a haunting game about paranormal investigator Paul Prospero visiting the town of one of his fans, a young boy named Ethan, only to discover the town to had been abandoned and Ethan and his family were missing. This creepy first-person puzzle game captured the imagination of PC gamers last year, and now PS4 owners have a chance to explore the abandoned town of Red Creek Valley, and attempt to get to the bottom of young Ethan’s disappearance.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is equal parts frustration and wonderment. Right off the bat, the game says it will not hold players hands, and this is true. In a day and age when most games are much too easy, this sort of trait is admirable, but The Vanishing of Ethan Carter decides to create its difficulty by failing to explain the basic gameplay mechanics that make it tick, and once players learn how to properly solve the mysteries and explore the environment, it becomes a considerably smoother experience.
As Paul Prospero explores the town of Red Creek Valley, players are left to their own devices. Red Creek Valley is not a large open world, but it is an open world nonetheless, and depending on how thoroughly players explore the locale, they will get a lot more out of the experience.
Scattered throughout Red Creek Valley are various murders and other creepy happenings. If one chooses, they may collect all of the evidence related to a murder, and then work to recreate the events that led up to the event. Unfortunately, thinking through these logically is off the table, as each “case” is designed to purposefully trick the player, meaning that they are largely trial and error affairs.
Overall, solving the crime scenes is the least engaging aspect about the game. The more interesting puzzles are the ones that think outside the box, such as a house with teleporting doorways, and another involving a UFO, but those are few and far between.
By completing these puzzles, players are rewarded with little notes that expand on the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Ethan and his family. These are great and very well-written, and they do a tremendous job of building the game’s atmosphere and universe. Unfortunately, this sharp writing does not translate to the clunky and poorly acted dialogue, which completely breaks the immersion in spots.
Altough The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an absolutely stunning game, with beautifully realized environments that bring the horror story to life in a major way, it’s an extremely short experience, and unless one skips all the murders and other mysteries to solve, there’s not a lot in the way of replayability. Even so, it’s one of those games that one time through will probably leave the player satisfied, yet still yearning for just a bit more.
Nearly a year since the game debuted on PC (read our review of the PC version here), one might expect that the PS4 version would be packing some extra content to entice veteran players to take another stroll through the woods of Red Valley Creek. Besides the fact that it’s now running on Unreal Engine 4, the PS4 version of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is basically identical to the PC version. Apparently The Astronauts are working on a virtual reality version of the game next, so perhaps Project Morpheus support could be added in the future.
Weak voice acting and poorly written dialogue coupled with some frustrating game design choice hold The Vanishing of Ethan Carter back from its true potential. However, developers The Astronauts have proven that they know how to masterfully spin a spooky gaming tale that will stay with the player long after its over. Hopefully they’ve learned from the slight missteps of Ethan Carter and will deliver an even better experience with their next effort.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter released last year for PC, but is now also available on PS4. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.