The Vanishing of Ethan Carter may have been around for three years, but it’s finally arrived on the Xbox One, along with full 4K support and a new Free roam mode.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a story driven game from developers ‘The Astronauts’, Following our protagonist Paul Prospero, you’re on the search for a young boy who’s gone missing. You might have already guessed the boy’s called Ethan Carter, but newcomers to the game won’t have a clue at what’s in store.
From the start you’re warned there’s no hand-holding, stark contrast to many modern games it’s great to have a title that concentrates more on the adulthood of video games, controlling Paul you begin on the outskirts of Ethan’s hometown, a tiny mining village known as Red Creek.
From here the world is your oyster and there’s no glaring arrows pointing you in the right direction, instead just a few visual clues such as a building or bridge on the horizon… Soon enough you’ll stumble across a bridge and you start to find signs that Ethan might not be the only one missing, a blood soaked train carriage and a little further down the line, a dismembered corps are only the beginning.
Upon finding my way to the first few buildings, I went in for a look around and came across my first major puzzle, a house where, after reading a letter near the entrance, would allow me to interact with a doorway to alter the room ahead… There where no instructions, but after a brief red or white flash after entering the room, I worked out that there was a specific layout I was searching for, some where simple, such as windows aligned with the previous room, but others where down to guesswork and eventually I found myself inside a secret room which delivered quite a slice of back story.
Proceeding through the game there’s not hundreds of puzzles, but those you find will require an equal amount of patience, intelligence and sometimes sheer luck, with each delivered a large slice of story for your troubles.
The great thing about Ethan’s story is the freedom you have to discover it, some might not come across the house puzzle until a little later, others might breeze through it and some may even lose patience at the lack of assistance.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is very much about the story and the most important thing is how well that’s presented, both visually, especially with the stunning 4K textures and resolution on the Xbox One X, but also with the quality of writing, the audio presentation and the sense of freedom.
Combined it’s a fantastic experience which will test your nerve while still feeling quite a relaxed game.
As stated above, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks absolutely fantastic, I’d even go as far as saying it’s one of the best looking 4K titles on the One X, especially of smaller (budget) titles, while The Astronauts are an Indie dev, they’re also incredibly experienced (former ‘People Can Fly’) and graphically they’ve produced an absolute masterpiece. As well as the resolution you can choose to cap the frame to 30FPS or unlock it, and while many will choose to cap it for a smoother experience, frame peaks where so infrequent, it’s one of the few games I happily keep on 4K , max frame rate because it’s optimised so well.
Walking around, you’ll find a level of depth to all of your surroundings that make them believable and intriguing, sight-seeing is a must and even mid puzzle, I’d often stop to admire the view. Thankfully an entire mode has been added to experience this element of Red Creek, as Free roam removes the story side and allows you to navigate and enjoy the world, with no puzzles, blood or missing children, just the freedom and detail to enjoy the world around you.
So far it’s tough to pick fault, but then it depends on what you’re looking for, those looking for action, signs pointing them in the right direction every five minutes, or multiple engaging modes, might not be quite as impressed. Sure Red Creek is fantastic to look at, but I personally don’t see the point of the free-roam mode, apart from making the world blood free and completely child friendly as 99% of the world is identical to the main game, and with the entire game allowing you to navigate at your freedom, it already feels very much a free-roam experience.
With such a beautiful world to distract you, it’s also a little too easy to lose yourself, sure it won’t be long before you find a path back to that long stunning bridge, but with no map or sign-posts, you’re likely to spend some of your time wandering around wondering what happens next.
It’s pretty harsh to criticise a game for not giving you direction, while also praising it for being a good, old-fashioned challenge without hand holding, but it’s worth mentioning that the puzzles aren’t the only thing you’ll need patience for.