When I first played The Vanishing of Ethan Carter when it released on PC, I was pretty amazed. The gorgeous visuals, the lush forests and beautiful architecture that fills the environment was unparalleled. When I hit the end of my journey, I had missed a puzzle and didn’t realize that I could use the map to return to a previous point to find the puzzle and finish the narrative. Luckily, in steps the late to the party Xbox One version to help me fill in the gaps.
The Vanishing of Ethan carter is an adventure walking simulator. Players will fill the shoes of Paul Prospero, an investigator who receives a letter from the young Ethan Carter which takes him to Red Creek Valley, Wisconsin. Paul quickly learns that things are not what they seem in Red Creek Valley, and supernatural phenomena quickly begin.
As the Vanishing of Ethan Carter begins, a splash screen appears stating that “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.” Much in the same vein that the Hellblade opening sequence promises permadeath if Senua perishes. These two games couldn’t be farther apart, but the warning is always in the back of players’ minds. One of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter’s greatest strengths is that there is no help. There are no objective markers, or quest logs. Paul must explore and learn more about Ethan on his own, and it makes discovering the world’s crumbling buildings, insanely gorgeous vistas, and blood ridden graveyards feel more organic.
The one thing that truly cannot be understated is how absolutely beautiful The Vanishing of Ethan Carter really is. This latest release has received the full Xbox One X treatment, and the optimization couldn’t be better. Beautiful rays of light shine through tree branches to illuminate incredibly textured ferns and the multicolored fall season leaves. Grass sways and blows in the wind while water flows down a mountainside. From the star speckled night sky to the grains set in bricks, everything is incredibly detailed and is a true showcase for the Xbox One X.
It’s pretty astonishing how beautiful The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looked on PC when it first launched, but even now I’m blown away by the sheer beauty of it. Since everything in the world is explored on foot, I often found myself literally just stopping in the middle of a puzzle to appreciate the incredible design of the world. It’s been a long time since I’ve stopped to appreciate nature in real life, let alone a virtual world.
Aside from The Vanishing of Ethan Carter’s incredible visuals (seriously, I will forever plug this when I can), not only does the exploration of the world feel organic, but discovering the narrative does as well. As part of the “not holding your hand” experience, players don’t have to complete all the puzzles or side stories to finish the game. Stumbling across a story or puzzle felt just as rewarding as completing them. Paul has the incredible gift of being able to piece together what happened as a segment of a narrative just before an event (sorry, trying to be ambiguous to avoid spoilers). This helps him understand Ethan and what happened in Red Creek Valley as part of a varied series of investigations he performs while exploring. Most of these stories revolve around deceased characters, but some of them involve mythical beasts and paranormal phenomena.
The thing that will really click for most players is how dark and personal the story in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter really is. Discovering the motives behind these characters, even though you never meet them is mind blowing in its sense of discovery, and shows a real passion by the developers for their brand of story-telling. Even though The Vanishing of Ethan Carter doesn’t hold players’ hands, puzzle sequences can be a little hit or miss. Not because any of them are poorly designed, but some of the sequences try to pull you in the right direction. There is only one designated path to take to complete a puzzle, and that fact is made clear very early, even if the rest of the discovery is up to you.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter should have been a showcase title for the Xbox One X. The visuals are pretty unparalleled by any of its contemporary counterparts. The sense of exploration given to players is something that other adventure walking simulators haven’t gotten right since its initial release, and anyone that hasn’t played The Vanishing of Ethan Carter yet has a brand new opportunity that should be immediately seized.