Saturday, 27 September 2014

Review: The vanishing of Ethan Carter. (Updated)

*OK, Very embarrassing but a major error in my review has been pointed out to me by some kind soul on Twitter. In the review I state that the game uses cryengine but in fact it actually doesnt. It is instead an Unreal engine 3 game. How the dev team at Astronauts achieved the staggering visuals in this game using such an old well worn engine is anybody guess and just speaks further to their skills as coders and artists. Hats off to them. Apologies to them and you the reader for my glaring error in the review. I can't quite remember why I thought it was Cryengine but  I guess the huge unreal engine 3 logo at the start of the game was just to subtle a hint for me to twig my mistake. Somewhere there's a Picard facepalm meme with my name on it.

The vanishing of Ethan Carter is a gorgeous game. I'll get that out of the way right off the bat. Cryengine is responsible for probably the most technically beautiful game on PC, in crysis 3, and this game only really reinforces the reputation of Cryteks engine here.
The thing that is most striking about the visuals is just how natural everything seems. I loved the way the trees and foliage would sway and how leaves would float by on the breeze. Rocks too are a particular high point. Each highly detailed and the ones near the water sport the appropriate amount of moss coverage. A connoisseur of such things like myself can't help but be impressed.
All that isn't to say that the games visuals are ultra realistic though. Developers Astronauts have clearly not gone that route with this title. It would have easy for them to push for a realism in the game, like crysis 3, but an obvious effort has been made to be more stylised in their approach and what they achieve is a look that is technically very beautiful whilst still retaining a hand drawn look - and that suits the game perfectly.

On to the gameplay itself and, all in all, I had a pleasant experience with this game. If you've played the recent Square enix game Beyond soul suspect then you're going to get a familiar feeling from the vanishing of Ethan carter right from the start. Both games are very similar in their approach to solving mysteries, the way you scan for clues is almost identical.
The one area where both games differ though is in the way they introduce the player to the mechanics of the gameplay. Put it this way - The vanishing won't hold your hand in the same way soul suspect did. Or at all in fact. You see no tutorial messages for example. The game is literally just you and the world. Find your own way through it is the order of the day.
On a few occasions, I wondered how other players were coping with the game because I was having a strange experience. I should have been struggling I felt, but I wasn't and I couldn't put my finger on why at first. I was getting zero help from the game as promised, but I found myself whizzing through the games clues at a surprising speed.
Then I twigged what was going on. Astronauts will tell you the game has no tutorial and that you need to discover how to play on your own. But that's not completely true. You see the game does in fact have a tutorial. Its just not part of the main game and its not called the vanishing of Ethan Carter. Its called Beyond soul suspect.
Yep, that was it, I found this game so easy because I felt I'd played it already in soul suspect. The mechanics really are almost identical and , as such, I literally felt right at home with this new game.
That didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the game, but it did shorten the game for me. The trouble comes then from the fact that the vanishing of Ethan Carter is already kind of a short experience. Having said that though, I won't bash Astronauts for that when the length of the game has been addressed in the price. £14.99 is about the right price for this game IMO.

Like titles such as Gone home and dear Esthar, Some will label the vanishing of Ethan Carter as just a pretty walking simulator. But I think that's as unfair to this title as it was to those other games. It offers an experience that stands on its own two feet and doesn't need to pack action in unnecessarily. In fact the only part of the game where I was just ever so slightly disappointed was a section midway through that seemed shoehorned in as a mere grudgingly given nod to the current crop of fashionable horror games on the market. The section had me trying to navigate an underground maze while avoiding monsters in a kind of riff on the hide and seek gameplay of Outlast. It just felt a little weird and out of place in my opinion and was a concession that Astronauts didn't really need to make.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with The vanishing of Ethan Carter. I wouldn't go as far as recommending this game over soul suspect, which I really enjoyed, but there is certainly room for both games in this genre and I'd really recommend both as they really do unintendedly compliment each other rather well.


The vanishing of Ethan Carter is available on Steam for £14.99 and is coming to PlayStation 4 at a later date.