Assuming that a player will understand the path of progression within a game is a risky move to make; many big budget games remove this risk to the extreme and give the player a linear path that cannot be strayed from. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a murder mystery adventure puzzle game that takes the opposite approach - giving the player virtually no help whatsoever.
After a warning that your hand will not be held through the game, you are transported to a set of train tracks where you discover you are a detective investigating a disappearance. As there is no tutorial, you are left to start exploring and interacting with various objects. You soon come across a murder scene where you use your apparent psychic abilities to create a recreation of the crime by piecing together fragments of evidence. The first murder scene puzzle is certainly the most difficult to solve; both due to the fact that you haven’t done one before, and the tiny little details hidden to uncover.
As the game progresses there are more of these puzzles which become easier as you begin to understand the mechanics of the game. These murder scene puzzles can become a little repetitive by the end, and the side puzzles throughout offer much more enjoyable and varied challenges. The crime scene investigations can also become quite frustrating when you end up spending ages searching for the tiniest little final clue.
What will be impossible to miss when playing is the absolutely stunning vistas and views and the incredible detail present; this truly is one of the best looking games I have ever played and the environment is a real joy to explore.
The narrative experience of this game is also one of the most interesting aspects, as the plot is told through a series of stories written by Ethan Carter, and through the recreation of the murders that you uncover. As the plot is one of the most important mysteries in this game I don’t want to give anything away...I will say, however, that the ending is worth reaching.
The experience is marred slightly by the absolute lack of assistance, as it can lead to some frustrating backtracking and searching. In the end though, this just adds to the sense of achievement when you finally do discover the missing segment of the puzzle. It's an enjoyable and beautiful experience that, save for some minor niggles, is a very worthwhile investment, despite the short running time.
Independent News Service