Tag Archives: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Walking Simulator

This is for day 26 of Blaugust

“Walking Simulator” is pretty bad, somewhat derogatory name but for better or for worse it seems to have become its own category of games lately. These games mostly feature you walking, in first-person view, while exploring an environment. Mechanics are minimal – you may be able to jump or crouch, or interact with some objects, but other than that the games are mainly about exploring an environment.

What makes some of these games great while others can be a giant snoozefest?

Story

Without a whole lot of gameplay mechanics to keep the player engaged, the story really needs to hold up. In these games you’re generally not interacting with any other characters directly and story is mainly told through observation or narration. While leaving things up to the player’s interpretation and being vague can work for some games, a combination of vague story and lack of any action makes for a really dull experience. Like Dear Esther. Snippets of narration were given (as far as I could tell they weren’t even in a particular order), visuals sometimes offered clues but, otherwise, there was no solid story. Just a lot of walking. In Gone Home, on the other hand, the main story is very clear. There are little mysteries around the house that aren’t explained but you do learn Sam’s story.

Goal

Stanley Parable corridor

If the story isn’t strong, there needs to be a clear goal. In Slender the goal is very simple – gather pages, don’t die. In The Stanley Parable your goal is constantly shifting based on your decisions, but you are told quite clearly what to do. In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter your goal is to find (or find out what happened to) Ethan. The games I’ve found less engaging – Dear Esther, Serena, Mind: Path to Thalamus don’t have a clear goal. While Sunset does have a goal, that goal is to clean some rich dude’s apartment.

Tone

Having good tone and atmosphere is good, and having a changing tone is even better. Again, with a lack of action or interaction you need to feel engaged in some other way. The Stanley Parable does this best. Comedy (as long as it is truly funny) is a great way to make something interesting. Then at times that comedy turns a bit mysterious and dark, things get creepy. Then, back to funny! Horror is another way to make a game that is lacking in action engaging. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter had me on the edge of my seat from the very beginning. Even among the beautiful, idyllic scenery, there was always a sense of danger and occasionally the unease was broken up by actual scares. Gone Home adds some scary elements without it being a scary game which I think was a good choice.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter cemetary

On the other side of things, Dear Esther had a mildly unsettling atmosphere throughout the whole game but I was unsure why I was unsettled the whole time. Serena classifies itself as a horror game, without including any scares or creepiness factor until the very end. Sunset has a backstory of civil revolution and war but nothing in the gameplay or immediate environment ever really reflects that. It’s tonally even the entire time.

Length and Pacing

This is a big one for me. Not only do I have a love for short games, but I can also only walk around so much. Gone Home is a perfect 2 hour experience. It doesn’t overstay its welcome. The Stanley Parable can be finished in 10 minutes, but it makes you want to go back and try different things. Though Ethan Carter is on the longer side, there’s enough interaction to make that okay.

Sunset would have been a much better game at 2 hours instead of 4.

The Gone Home Factor

Gone Home VHS tapes

While I think many people enjoyed Gone Home, for people of a particular age group/culture/location, it was catnip. I fall into that group. Besides having good writing and telling an emotionally affecting story, this game hit the nostalgia sweet spot. Taped X-Files episodes on VHS! I used to record it every Friday! Lisa Frank stickers, yes! SNES carts lying around, Street Fighter doodles in notebooks, magic eye posters, the Dream Phone board game. So many references to growing up in the 90s filled every room of this virtual house, and each provided a dopamine hit.


 

Do you have any particular favourites in this genre? Or have you played any particularly boring ones?

Best Games of 2014

It’s that time of year when everyone writes about the best games of the year, and thought I’d add my 2 cents. This list feels a bit disingenuous since I currently own or want a number of 2014 releases that I just haven’t had time to get to yet, but I can only play so many games in a single year!

I think 2014 has gotten a lot of flack, as many consider it a weak year for gaming. I disagree. The beginning of the year was a bit weak – the PS4 and XBox One had just come out, and there are always growing pains and a lack of games to play on brand new systems. Also, a number of games that came out this year were remasters of games that had come out over the last couple years as well. But as we got closer to the middle and end of the year, a number of real heavy hitters started getting released, and I think the year ended on a good note.

So here are my top 6 games released in 2014.

Tomb Raider

I struggled with giving a best of 2014 award to a game that actually came out in 2013 and only got a remaster in 2014, but Tomb Raider was so much fun that I just can’t resist. Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider franchise with aplomb. We got a Lara Croft origin story that was thrilling and Lara herself got her best makeover ever. I’ve written about all the things I felt Tomb Raider did right from a feminist perspective but, when it comes down to it, Tomb Raider takes one of the top spots because it was just so much fun to play. Set pieces and quick time events sent my heart racing. I flinched each time Lara took a blow. Gameplay was fast and smooth with super slick controls. Taking out enemies with my bow, traversing rock faces, swinging down ziplines, all felt so natural. The controls  were so impeccable they actually ruined a number of other PS4 action-adventure games for me. I just couldn’t get into AC: Black Flag and Infamous: Second Son – where the characters moved oddly in comparison. I had to fight the controls to get Edward or Delsin to do what I wanted, whereas Tomb Raider made Lara feel like an extension of myself.

Valiant Hearts: the Great War

2014 was not a great year for Ubisoft’s big releases. However, in June Ubisoft Mountpellier put out a lovely puzzle adventure about love, survival, and sacrifice during World War One. The game puts you in the shoes of four different characters whose lives have been intertwined in strange and sometimes heartbreaking ways by the war. Though the game contains no dialogue, I always knew what each character was feeling, in part due to the excellent animation and music. Games often put us into the role of soldiers, but not many do it like this. Valiant Hearts is not a power fantasy, but a history lesson and an experience that makes us question war from an emotional and philosophical standpoint. It was really refreshing to see war from from a non-American view, as the whole game takes place in the period before America joined the war effort. It did make me tear up a few times, most notably during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Valiant Hearts - The Great WarMechanically the game is very enjoyable as well. Gameplay is quite varied, yet still manages to fit into the context of the story. It covers everything from operating machinery to turn off chlorine gas pipes, timing-based movement to sneak between enemy patrols, rhythm based medical procedures, and car chases set to amazing orchestral music. A number of the puzzles involve Walt, a casualty dog, who can help to fetch items from tight places and find injured soldiers. And who doesn’t love games with dogs?

Valiant Hearts is one of those rare games that combine both fun gameplay and a meaningful story to give a great gaming experience.

The Last of Us: Left Behind

Left Behind is not really a game on its own, but DLC for The Last of Us. Regardless of this, it’s an amazing experience that deserves a place on game of the year lists. It was great to step into Ellie’s shoes and see her past, as well as expand upon the Winter chapter of The Last of Us. Left Behind is a perfect 2-hour gaming experience that did everything the main game did, but did it better. The pacing is perfect, the dialogue is endearing and on point. It’s not as action-heavy, but it wastes no time – every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.

PT

I don’t play a lot of horror games, but PT showed me how great they can be. Though it’s really just a playable demo for the new Silent Hills game, it was one of my best gaming experiences of the year. PT created a taut, terrifying experience that delivered not just jump scares, but a truly unsettling environment and disturbing audio and visuals and wormed their way into my psyche. Perhaps it was partly the context of playing the game (I was with great company and a couple bottles of bubbly), but PT managed to keep me so engrossed and curious for more that I played it 3 times in a row. The fact that each playthrough was subtly different was just the icing on the horribly creepy cake.

PT hallwayI think PT was more successful as its own game than it was as a trailer. While PT was exceptional, I don’t have a lot of faith that a horror game can be 12 hours long with more involved gameplay and still be as compelling as this was.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

This was one of the few games whose development I followed closely before it was released, and I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand, and is a refreshing take on the weird horror genre. It’s also one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, with photorealistic environments that put many AAA games to shame, and a gorgeous and moody soundtrack. Ethan Carter is a murder mystery that hints towards a greater darkness. It lets you explore the beautiful world and solve puzzles at your own pace, while still managing to maintain tension throughout its whole 4-5 hour playtime.

Dragon Age: INQUISITION

Four of the previous games on this list are there at least in part due to their short playtimes, which created a tight and well-paced experience. Dragon Age: Inquisition is the complete opposite of those. To be honest, the pacing of the game’s first 10-20 hours was complete shit. However, the game more than makes up for it with its huge, deep, engaging story, wonderfully written dialogue, and sheer enormity of the world. While the size of the game can be a bit overwhelming, this installment of Dragon Age had a sense of place and a real, living world like no other. Once I hit a certain part in the story (which I could have reached way earlier if I had just left the fracking Hinterlands), I was completely enthralled and immersed in the world. The characters, from those in my party, to my advisers, to the people hanging around Skyhold all felt like real people, who I wanted to talk to and learn about. The addition of the War Table made me feel like I was the actual head of an army, who had to make decisions and delegate, rather than a lone adventurer who needed to personally slay every demon and settle every petty dispute myself. I sunk a good 200 hours into this game, and besides those initial 10 or so, I loved every minute of it.


 

Those are my games of the year, what are yours?

 

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (Review)

Red Creek Valley is a place of duality. It’s home to both great beauty and abject horror. One minute the soft, warm light of the sunset reflects off placid water, instilling a sense of serenity. The next you step into the shadows and are filled with unease. Traps litter the entrance to the valley – are they keeping people in or out? The scenery fools you into thinking you are welcome here, but the darkness within soon makes itself known.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter tells you right at the beginning that it is a narrative experience that will not hold your hand. It holds to that. As you walk into the Valley you’re not told where you’re going or what to do, just that you need to find Ethan Carter. This is quite refreshing. I’ve become so used to waypoints, detailed maps, hints, and having objectives listed on the side of my screen. Ethan Carter urges you to explore and rewards you for it. The game mechanics also aren’t spelled out, but they’re easy enough to pick up.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter scenery

Ethan Carter is a beautiful game. Every five feet I wanted to stop and take a screenshot but at the same time the screenshots don’t really do it justice, as the combination of visuals, sounds, and music really make the experience. The soundtrack is exquisite, haunting, and often ominous. It adds to the sense of wonder during exploration and keeps you on edge as you anticipate how Red Creek Valley’s secrets will present themselves next.

This game really excels in creating atmosphere. There was a major sense of foreboding any time I needed to leave the beautiful country backdrop and go inside. It didn’t matter if it was a Church or a mine, just seeing a doorway made the hairs on my arms stand up. At one point I stood frozen at the entrance to a crypt, knowing there was something to find down there, but dreading descending into the darkness. Tension is maintained through the whole experience. Even just walking through the lovely environments, listening to the haunting music, I was often startled by sudden narration or other sounds.   It maintains constant eeriness, without getting overwhelming. There is only one sequence in the game where you are in any real danger (though death has very little consequence). On one hand, it seemed a little out of place to have an immediate, rather than psychological threat. But on the other, it did amp up the game’s intensity and added a sense of urgency that was otherwise missing.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter cemetary

Gameplay is very simple. This is a first person exploration and mystery game. You can walk, run, crouch (though I found only one place I needed to crouch in the game), and examine or pick up objects. I really enjoyed the puzzles. You weren’t given much direction but everything was logical and the solutions made sense. The major puzzles involve solving murders. You examine the scene, which usually involves the body, the weapon, and a few other key elements. Once you’ve examined everything and put things in their rightful places, you can ‘communicate’ with the body of the victim, which sparks a new puzzle. Vignettes will appear around the crime scene and you need to put them in the correct order so you can reconstruct and watch what happened. Every murder you solve tells you a bit more about the story. There are also some non-murder puzzles to solve, and I found these even more compelling. A favourite of mine involved discerning truth from illusion as you explored an abandoned house. As you solve these puzzles you discover things like Newspaper clippings and stories written by Ethan, which flesh out the narrative.

The overall story is well told – this isn’t about simple murder, there are hints of a greater darkness everywhere. The game raises a lot of questions but doesn’t answer them all. I’m okay with this, as some things are best left up to our imaginations. The voice actor for the main protagonist does a solid, if not exceptional job. He conveys the paranormal detective aspect well, but his lines are a little one-note.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter ghosts

In a few ways, Ethan Carter reminded me of Murdered: Soul Suspect. Solving the mysteries and inspecting clues can be similar, and stylistically there some overlaps. However, unlike Murdered, Ethan Carter isn’t confused about what it is. There are no tacked on action sequences. The game promises exploration and mystery solving and that is what it delivers.

I have very few complaints about Ethan Carter. Sometimes parts of the game world felt a little too large – going from one end of the map to the other required a fair bit of travel time. This was a good thing while I was first exploring, but if I needed to backtrack it felt like a bit of a time sink.

My playthrough of Ethan Carter lasted between 4-5 hours. Given the price-point and the story being told, this seemed just about right. I was tense through the whole game, if it lasted any longer it might have been overkill.

Rating: 9/10 – The vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of the most attractive and atmospheric games I’ve played. It maintains an amazing amount of tension throughout, without going into full horror game mode. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys exploring and narrative gaming experiences.

Content warning – A couple instances of bigoted language.


I have a copy of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for Steam to give away. It’s one of the pre-order editions, which includes some bonuses like the soundtrack, wallpapers, a making of album, and a map of Red Creek Valley. If you want a chance to win, just leave a comment and tell me what your favourite mystery story is (from a game, book, movie, whatever). On Friday October 3rd I will randomly choose a winner. 


I’m making video walkthroughs of the game. If you plan to play it, I’d suggest you skip them and play for yourself though (unless you’re stuck, then check them out). Here’s the first one.

Edit (October 3rd) – I have randomly selected a winner, and that winner is Dahakha! Code has been sent. Thanks everyone for entering!