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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . A murder mystery-turned-supernatural thriller, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is great at setting a mood and telling an effective story. Unfortunately, some late-game pacing issues and frame-rate problems hold this first-person adventure down. When not confined to an underground mine, this is one of the PlayStation 4's prettiest games. Rating: 78%
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter The Vanishing of Ethan Carter The Vanishing of Ethan Carter The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
  • Review Score:

  • B+
Perhaps it's because I grew up in a small cabin in the forest, but I've always been partial to stories set in the middle of the nowhere. Although I'm not very adventurous in real life, I'm a big fan of exploring the virtual wilderness, poking through caves and walking alongside rivers that are far removed from the touches of civilization. Add in supernatural elements and there's a good chance I'll fall in love.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter manages to scratch all of those itches, which is probably why I found myself immediately drawn to the murder mystery. It stars a no-nonsense paranormal investigator who is on the hunt for a missing child. The case has brought him to Red Creek Valley, a small community connected by a single road, working dam and lots of wooded area. It's here that he begins to piece together the events that led to several gruesome killings.

The boy at the center of this story is Ethan Carter. He's an imaginative young man who likes to write stories and explore his creative side. But there's also a dark side to this story. A darkness that ultimately leads to a pile of dead bodies and a tragic house fire. It's up to our hero, Paul Prospero, to figure out what happened to Ethan and how all these stories link together.

Presented as a first-person crime thriller, it doesn't take long for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter to turn into an episode of CSI. Paul will need to locate each piece of the murder puzzle and connect it all together. He does this by picking up items and recreating the crime scene. The evidence will be so clear that Paul will eventually see each step of the murder. Once he's put everything in the right order, he can watch it play out and solve the case.

It won't take long before Paul's straight-forward investigation takes a decidedly supernatural turn. We see an astronaut appearing out of thin air, evidence of the occult and a house that doesn't abide by the laws of time and space. There was more than one time when I wondered if Ethan Carter had literally vanished, perhaps sucked into an alternate dimension or whisked off into space. I honestly had no idea where it was leading me, and I found that refreshing.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is not the kind of game that holds your hand. In fact, chances are you'll completely miss the first two puzzles while getting a lay of the land. The game rewards exploration. Red Creek Valley is a large, connected area full of spots off the beaten path. It expects you to be thorough in your investigation. And if you're not, be prepared to spend a lot of time backtracking to complete missed puzzles.

I didn't mind the backtracking and vague puzzles, those are par for the territory. What did bother was how the game chose not to expand on the crime scene mechanics. Instead of fleshing the investigations out in new and creative ways, it felt like the developers went in the opposite direction. The last few puzzles require very little problem solving and are there just to get us to the next story beat. The puzzles in general felt like an afterthought in the second half of the adventure.

It doesn't help that the game eventually gets bogged down in the underground mines. This is a dark and dreary location that is a world removed from the bright and colorful foliage waiting for us outside. This cave system is especially nasty because it involves a maze and a roaming villain, both of which force the player to spend way too much time looking for the exit. This is a giant speed bump in an otherwise well-paced adventure.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

When not confined to the dark corridors of the mines, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a visually arresting experience. The landscape is gorgeous and you can almost smell the leaves on the trees. Unfortunately, this PlayStation 4 version does suffer from a few frame-rate hic-ups. Also, the character models pale in comparison to the lush forests.

Although brief, it's ultimately worth finding out what happened to Ethan Carter. The story is gripping and the big twist ending will leave you speechless. It's a perfectly contained paranormal thriller with real twists and turns. It runs into a few pacing issues in the second half and it wouldn't hurt to clean up the frame-rate, but The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a case worth cracking.
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