Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Review!

There is no better introduction.

               The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a first-person story-driven adventure game developed by the polish indie studio The Astronauts and released on September 2014.

               The story is inspired by weird fiction from the early twentieth century (writers like H.P. Lovecraft) and revolves around Paul Prospero, a detective with paranormal powers, who received numerous disturbing letters from a boy named Ethan Carter. Understanding that the boy is in serious danger, the detective comes to Red Creek Valley the place where Ethan’s home is. Paul realizes that Ethan has vanished (shocked?!) after solving a local murder that he finds not too far from the entrance to the inhabited area of the region. Following the trails left behind, detective Prospero finds out that Ethan has awaken something that started to drive his family insane and tries to reach the boy before anyone harms him.
               The storytelling is made through various texts found lying around in the world or visions triggered by solving some of the puzzles in the game.
The liberty of movement in the game creates an illusion of an open world, but despite not being so, the game still has a non-linear way of telling the story as players can miss or ignore certain mysteries and move on. There is only one barrier in the game that stops the player from advancing freely without having to complete any tasks, everything else is optional. This idea of choosing what to do not only helps the players stuck at a puzzle but also gives a more realistic feeling to the investigation.
Red Creek Valley seems like a friendly place.
Looks like a nightmarish architectural design!

               The game has some interesting mechanics that fit really well with the atmosphere and the story creating a believable mix of reality and fiction. The main character has some paranormal powers which helped him throughout his career to solve his cases. He can access the last memories of a dead body by recreating the scene before the crime happened and if he puts the memories of the victim in the right order, he can see the entire scene right in front of his eyes, understanding the motives behind the crime but also seeing everyone involved. Another handy power our detective has is the visualization of the area where a lost item can be found, making his job to find something he needs in order to arrange a crime scene to its original state easier.
The photographic memory of our detective is depicted in the game in a very innovative way, as the name of every clue found is highlighted in 3D and can be seen by the players from the distance, making it easier to remember everything and serving a similar purpose as this impressive skill does in real life.
Eidetic memory?!
Blue memories...
An unfair power over other detectives!

               The world of Ethan Carter doesn’t just put accent on storytelling and interesting game mechanics, but one of the main focuses of this game is the attention to details and graphical fidelity. I have to say that The Astronauts studio did one of the best jobs I’ve seen in years by creating a game where everything is placed where it naturally fits, it’s like this game was a puzzle formed by pieces of textures that were carefully placed one by one leading to a spectacular end result. Almost every place in this world is unique and full of details forcing players without knowing it to explore more and not skip on its beauty.
               The great design and graphics of Ethan Carter were made possible with Unreal Engine 3 and by using photogrammetry (science of making measurements from photographs), which allowed the recreation of real life objects by shooting lots of photos of them and then uploading these photos into a specialized software that matches every detail and creates a 3D virtual model of that object. This process was repeated for many of the objects and even human beings found in the game and the result was a detailed photorealistic world.
Looks better than Pandora!
No photogrammetry for the sky?! That's disappointing...
Good place for a picnic.

               To top everything off and take the atmosphere and feeling at even a higher level, the music and sound effects in this game are at the highest standards being beautiful, mysterious and scary at the same time.
Put together, all the elements in this game create such an immersive experience that is hard to forget. Everything in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks amazing. But looks and good gameplay are not always enough and just as with every other game, there have to be some issues.
First, the length of the game (this review size is proportional with it) compared to the price tag is what is going to upset many players. At a price of 19.99 this game can take less than four hours to complete with little replay value, especially if you are searching every corner of the world and finishing all the puzzles in your first playthrough. For me this wasn’t the issue, but rather that when I finished it left me wanting more… (This doesn’t happen too often)
Despite saying that their primary focus is making the PC version as good as possible, The Astronauts studio choose to use a saving system that is not so popular or useful on PC. The autosave system in the game is annoying and its checkpoints are sometimes too far from one another forcing some players to replay big chunks of the game because they quit it without realizing they didn’t reach a checkpoint in a long while.
               The last problem I would like to talk about is related to performance. The game has an incredibly irritating micro-stuttering which is almost impossible to get rid off and does an amazing job at ruining the immersion.
Problems can be found in every game these days and gamers should get used with this idea because nothing will change. But if you can get over the fact that the game ends just when you start to get deeper into it then you should give this title a chance.
Well-chosen literature.
I have the feeling I'm searching for something.
This makes perfect sense.

               The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a short but fresh title in a gaming world full of franchises and reboots. With stunningly beautiful graphics, great atmosphere and an interesting story (which I found somewhat predictable), this title recreates the magic of adventure storytelling games without forcing anything on the players.

+ Beautiful graphics and art style
+ Huge attention to details
+ Captivating world
+ Thrilling atmosphere
+ Music
+ The feeling of freedom
+ Interesting game mechanics
+ Screenshots simulator

- Way too short
- Stuttering
- Autosave system
- (Subjective) Predictable story


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