***The above video does reveal the first two puzzles of the game*** The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was released on September 25, 2014 and was developed by The Astronauts. A review code was provided for review purposes.

TVoEC_ScreenShot_02Upon booting up The Vanishing of Ethan Carter by The Astronauts, I knew I was in for a treat, of sorts. The very first thing you’ll be greeted with is a nice, matter of fact, message which essentially says this is a open-exploration, story driven game and therefore there will be no hand holding. Gulp. Well that is certainly one way to catch your attention. The Astronauts are made up of developers who used to work at People Can Fly, whom you’ll remember from delivering the under-appreciated Bulletstorm and mediocre Gears of War: Judgement. Although to be fair, Adrian and company left the studio before Judgement was completed.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a beautifully crafted story where the player takes on the role of Paul Prospero, a psychic detective. He shows up in Red Creek Valley, a sleepy mining town in Wisconsin to figure out what events happened which caused Ethan to disappear. Upon entering this world, a few things will jump out at you immediately. First, the level of detail the developers have put into the landscapes are unreal. There are so many places to wander off to and explore that at times it can feel daunting to stay focused and locate clues. Secondly, the ambiance of the world is so thick and palpable there is a constant sense of tension as to what awaits you next. It should be noted that there are no physical encounters in this game and in fact, you’ll be alone for a good majority of the game. Lurking around looking for clues while being the alone in this world is intense. Your senses are heightened and you’re on edge waiting for an inevitable encounter, which never comes.

The developers take down all the guard rails in this title. You’re allowed to explore as how you see fit. If you wanted to race from the beginning to the end, you can do so. However, if you don’t solve all the puzzles, you will not get the ending to the game. There are approximately eight to ten puzzles which need to be solved. They can be completed in any order but we found completing them in the order in which they’re introduced made the most sense as it kept the story flowing. All of the puzzles will not be the same but a common theme in some will involve a deceased person. Your job will be to find clues around the body and then use your physic senses to reveal certain situations which led up to the death of this person. You’ll be presented with five to six scenarios which you’ll need to place in the correct chronological order. Seeing these scenes come to life and hearing other peoples voices after long stretches of silence is rewarding in itself.

Without spoiling the story and puzzles for anyone, the story takes interesting twists and turns as you learn more about a central character named The Sleeper. You’ll be taken to train tracks, old houses, graveyards, underground burial crypts, mines, and more. As you complete more and more puzzles, your adrenaline will skyrocket and your curiosity will be beyond peaked. Each section revealing more information until you’re ultimately at the culmination of an epic four to five hour story. Playtime can vary depending on how much exploring and backtracking you need to do. Either way, The Astronauts made sure to deliver a story that did not overstay it’s welcome.

TVoEC_ScreenShot_03The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an exquisite ride from beginning to end. Players will be captivated by the sounds of the environment and hooked on the story as soon as the first crucial puzzle has been solved. In a time where so many games are about players shooting each other in unbelievable worlds, here comes The Astronauts with a title which reminds us that the narrative is important but so is stimulating a person’s brain. We’ve all played great games where the story advances as we take more and more steps. Bioshock: Infinite comes to mind. But few games evolve the more a player carefully thinks through what has been put in front of them. Having the story revealed the more ones uses their brain is not only utterly satisfying but damn refreshing when compared to popular titles which make you grind for another notch on your belt. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was a fantastic experience and should prove to all the naysayers that video games aren’t always about explosions or gunfight. Instead there are developers who aren’t afraid to turn the medium upside down every now and then to deliver something just as powerful but presented in a totally different package.