A Paladin’s Steam Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. A Subtly Disturbing Yet Compelling Mystery Game.

Steam Review for a Windows only game.

Steam Review for a Windows only game.

Taking a look at last year’s novel First Person Exploration Mystery game.

This review went through quite a few rewrites but I really dig the final version that I’m publishing today. I hope you enjoy as well.

A Paladin’s Steam Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. A Subtly Disturbing Yet Compelling Mystery Game.

  • Genre: First Person Atmospheric Story Driven Mystery with Psychological Horror Elements
  • Developer & Publisher: The Astronauts
  • Platform Support: Windows, PS4. Mac & Linux “Coming Soon”.
  • Business Model: Base Game
  • Copy Purchased by Myself

Overall Gameplay Thoughts
Vanishing comes very, very close to a Walking Simulator. There really isn’t a failure state, your actions don’t really affect the game in any meaningful way and the game expects you to experience a lot of it. The only influence you have is exploring the world of Red Creek Valley, solving the puzzles and, by extension, the mystery Paul Prospero is here to solve. Oh right, that’s the guy who you’re controlling and hear monologue as you explore the valley. So, you’ll walk along at a fairly steady pace (there’s a reasonably faster sprint as well), drink in the atmosphere while you search for clues of Ethan’s whereabouts. All the while discovering that there’s something creepy and sinister beneath the surface.

Red Creek Valley is divided up into multiple areas, each containing a major puzzle or two for you to solve. Puzzles, for the most part, boil down to finding all the objects within a given area and figuring out how they all go together. The music playing in the background will clue you in on whether you’ve left the given area very subtly. Which is helpful because you’ll never need to leave an area in order to solve that particular puzzle. There aren’t any random items on the other side of the map that you have to find. It should be noted that it isn’t required to solve these puzzle areas in any particular order, they can be done at any time. Outside of soaking in the sights and experiencing the strange events going on, there’s not much else to do. However, I always felt like I was involved. There wasn’t any boring section I felt forced to walk through. It might help that Red Creek Valley appealed to me. Being able to see the burned out buildings, the rusted train cars and nature reclaiming the area, it really intrigued me. It’s a feel of history and decay that Vanishing goes out of its way to really sell to the player. It feels like a real place and it’s setup like a real place. I think that helped me enjoy the game more.

Atmosphere & Jumpscares
The atmosphere ate away at me. Slowly, creepily, I would sometimes jump at my phone beeping at me. It’s insidious how this game gets into your head. It makes you think something will jump out, scare you half to death and eat what remains of your sanity alive. Spoiler: that doesn’t happen. Except for one area, I’ll explain below. This isn’t a hardcore scare title like Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It’s far tamer by comparison while holding its own. I was often thinking that some dark fantasy creature such as Cthulhu was behind the scenes. It was amusing when that theory was half confirmed. The game will do its best to unnerve you. So long as you let it.

There’s only one section of the map where jump scares are present. It’s in a mine and they sort of warn you that it’s coming. Sort of. And it’s mostly optional unless you want a 100% completion rating. At least, I’m fairly certain its optional. The scare is when you’re running around in a mining maze, searching for clues to open a large door in the center of it. In this area, is an undead miner who’s been cursed. While you’re walking around, if you hear a telltale noise you should immediately turn around and go the other way. Otherwise, BOO. You have to start from the beginning of the maze.

PC Settings & Optimization
Optimization wise, this game leaves a bit to be desired. You will need to tweak your graphics options to get the best performance as running everything on high will drag the performance down hard. I noticed that Anti-Aliasing and Texture Filtering were the big performance hogs. Oh and there is constant texture loading, which will cause your game to “stutter” frequently as it loads them. This is a problem that affects a lot of computers and it’s immersion breaking. Additionally, if you’re not running a 16:9 resolution, the game will letterbox/pillarbox. Which I find to be frankly inexcusable for a native PC game to be this way. I can’t figure out why the devs didn’t scale the resolutions properly, it’s not like the Unreal engine can’t do it. PCGamingWiki has a installable solution to fix this as well as grant you multi-monitor and ultra-widescreen options. Additionally, while there is a proper Field-of-View slider in the options, (70-120) it crops the image in order to do it. Overall, while the game does run/scale well (and it does so long as you tweak about in the settings), the remaining problems are less excusable. Also, saving is only done in chunks so you might revert some of your actions when quitting and reloading.

Redux Edition Quick Thoughts
I gave the Redux edition a quick run through and they seem to have fixed a lot of the problems the original game had. The micro-stutter is completely gone, there’s no more pillarboxing as the resolution scales and performance generally seems to be better, if more taxing on machines. Saving is now done every time you act now too. FoV is still a crop effect but I’ll let it be. There’s also a bunch of tweaks and visual improvements added that you probably won’t notice. There’s no story difference between the two editions so if you can, play the redux. If that’s too taxing, play the original. Kudos to the devs for doing this for free.

Final Thoughts
The atmosphere and mystery makes for a compelling experience. While it does have a lot of adventure/walking simulator aspects to it, it still keeps the player involved the entire time. The atmosphere of a decaying rural area known as Red River Valley is simply intriguing. The psychological horror just works so well. Jump scares are rare but there’s something that eats at you the entire time. When finished, the game will leave you with more questions than answers though not in the “find out in the sequel” sort of way. I should note that the characters are rather cliche but when I consider the ending, it works and feels intentional. Visually, the game looks superb and the audio is top notch. If you’re looking for a fun mystery/exploration through a decaying rural area, give The Vanishing of Ethan Carter a go.

GOG Edition

GOG Edition

Read & rate the Steam version of this review.

Thanks for reading as always!

-KingIsaacLinksr

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