Developed by:The Astronauts Published by:The Astronauts Genre(s):
  • Adventure
  • Platform:
  • Microsoft
  • PC
  • Sony
  • Cost:$19.99 ESRB Rating:MATURE Players:1 Release date:September 26, 2014 Reviewed on:PC

    The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

    As a video game journalist, I have the privilege of receiving details about some titles long before I get to actually play and review the final release. With all the interviews, hands-on previews, and other early information being shared on a regular basis, it can feel like I’ve already experienced the majority of a title before it ever reaches the market. This was not the case with The Astronauts’ first video game, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter!

    The Astronauts did a great job of revealing details about The Vanishing without divulging any specifics about what actually happens over the course of the story. They did, however, give a hint by saying that the game was based on weird fiction horror stories and other tales of macabre of the early 20th century. Even though I had previously covered this game and knew the basic premise, none of that prepared me for what happened after I clicked “start”.

    The Vanishing of Ethan Carter follows the story of Paul Prospero, a retired detective that specialized in the supernatural, and a missing child named Ethan. Apparently Paul had quit being a detective because of the remnants of his past assignments. “When you start into the darkness for too long, things inside you…they change” was the way he described it. That said, he couldn’t ignore a fan letter he received from a young Ethan Carter. Filled with ancient symbols and unsettling descriptions of things Ethan shouldn’t know about, his frightening letter caused Paul to take serious notice. Even though he was reluctant to return to this line of work, he felt that he should help the kid. The only problem was that Ethan had already vanished by the time he read the letter…

    Now, in an effort to not spoil what happens I’ll try my best to be as vague as possible. What I can say is that entering the fictional Red Creek Valley (the town where Ethan went missing) was like stepping into the Twilight Zone. This seemingly peaceful town in Wisconsin, with its colorful autumn foliage and breathtaking sights created by its mountainous expanse, was downright creepy. Even if I didn’t have a missing child to save, I still would have thought something was wrong here. It wasn’t long before my suspicions were confirmed – within moments of my arrival I stumbled onto two severed limbs strewn about a bloody train track.

    Majority of The Vanishing’s gameplay is tied to solving mysteries like this using Paul’s detective skills. Looking over the scene of what could have been a brutal murder, the word “investigate” floats over a pool of blood. Left clicking when the word is highlighted will allow Paul to think about what might have transpired here. Blood, tracks, limbs – someone was run down recently. Before long I’ve found multiple clues that lead me to the remains of the victim (their upper torso to be exact). At this point, I was introduced to some of Paul’s supernatural abilities. By placing my hand on the victim’s body, I was able to witness the emergence of the victim’s past self in different locations. These apparitions would manifest themselves along the tracks, indicating different actions that were taken by the victim and those involved with the crime. By picking the correct order of actions, I was able to see what happened to the victim right before they died.

    Red Creek Valley had multiple scenes like the one described above. By using fragments of the past, the player will slowly piece together what’s been going on in this eerie town. At least until they have their first surreal encounter. Beyond the normal puzzles, there are super bizarre happenings that make it difficult to discern what’s actually going on. Again, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Just note that they are literally out of this world experiences that feature their own puzzles to be solved. Once completed, the narrative is pushed forward in such a way that it allows the mystery to take further hold of the player. Basically, they aren’t gamey additions that are just there to artificially lengthen play time and they don’t distract from the story by being shoehorned in. They have a purpose and are cleverly used.

    I really like how The Vanishing intentionally engrosses the player. The developers wanted gamers to discover what happened on their own, using only the basic of gameplay functions. How to interact with objects, where to go, and what to do when you get there – none of these things are ever outright explained to the player. How the world works is learned through play. The result is the player actively looking and searching for answers, more so than what they would have if there were floating markers telling them the who, what, and when. To do this successfully, the developers had to make sure that nothing was put into the game just to be there. Everything has a purpose and their intent is always made clear after some time in-game. Not only that, but the player isn’t placed on rails like in other games of this ilk; this isn’t a glorified, interactive gallery. Whether they are chasing a strange person in the woods or navigating an underground maze, players will need to do the grunt work in order to move things along.

    The Vanishing also engrosses the player by way of the audio and visuals. To be frank, the game is gorgeous and the soundtrack is great. The voice work didn’t lag far behind in terms of quality either. It’s apparent that a lot of time and effort went into these areas of the game. Makes sense really. Being played from a first person perspective, if the game looked and sounded bad it wouldn’t have been nearly as enthralling; I ended up completing the game in one sitting because I couldn’t stop playing.

    When it comes to these types of games, the nature of the narrative almost guarantees a onetime playthrough. It also doesn’t have the most unique ending ever created. Don’t let those things deter you from journeying to Red Creek Valley though. As a person whose gaming sessions have become limited over the years, I can attest that the mystery of Ethan Carter’s disappearance is certainly worth your time. It’s interesting that a team made up of former People Can Fly (Bulletstorm) devs could have come up with such a riveting tale. I hope that they’ll continue on this weird horror tale angle. They definitely have a knack for it!



    Though the game is similar to titles like Dear Esther, it’s much more fun to “play”. The mystery of Ethan’s disappearances is enough to pull you through the game; the gameplay makes sure you aren’t just a bystander to the action.



    The vibrant environment is juxtaposed with the grim reality surrounding Red Creek Valley. Basically, it’s a sight to see.



    The voice work and music should be well received.

    Replay Value:


    Unfortunately once you’ve completed the game, there isn’t a reason to continue playing. I’d still recommend checking it out though!

    Final Score:


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