Today marks the last Saturday before Halloween so I wanted to mention one more game that works well for the month. I’ve played a lot of games over the years and there are many that fit in to the month of October, but I’ve tried to go with different game styles for each week this time around. We’ve seen a top down RPG, a terrifying FPS and a super creepy third person mix of RPG and FPS. Today is perhaps the easiest to learn because it takes no special keystrokes or prior knowledge of gaming. It’s just walking around and keeping your eyes open to solve a mystery. Welcome to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
In 2014, The Astronauts released this game which is little more than a walking simulator; a first person perspective where the player walks around a stunningly gorgeous area looking for clues in the disappearance of a child. You play as a detective, Paul Prospero, who has an atypical ability: he’s psychically gifted and can sense things (see the image above; that’s Paul’s “seeing” things). When Paul learns that Ethan’s disappearance coincides with a brutal murder, Prospero has to work hard to figure out what happened.
Now, while there are no battles or monsters to be fought, there are very dark themes including, my favorite, a hint of Lovecraftian horror. How much of that is real or imagined is, as it should be, open to interpretation! What makes the game special is that finding clues gives the player a chance to piece together the past and “watch” it play out. Fans of the Batman: Arkham franchise will be familiar with the idea of piecing together a crime scene. If you understand things, they’ll play out and help you decipher what transpired. Get it wrong and the images fall apart. So you have to be attentive! Little details can make all the difference. As Holmes would say, there is nothing so important as trifles!
The entire game has a sense of dread and unease about it. There are no terror-stricken moments like in Outlast and the horror is more in the anticipation of what happened than anything shown on screen. There are some highly enjoyable puzzles. There are macabre ones, sci-fi ones and even the occasional fantasy puzzle but they all play to the final solution.
Counter-intuitively, perhaps, what made this game standout to me was the sheer beauty of it. The visual beauty masks an otherwise dark secret. You can’t help but be amazed by the visuals even though you know at some point, something horrible could be found in the undergrowth. Is that blood on the rails?
In preparing for this write-up, I went to the Steam page to look up the screenshots I’ve taken when I discovered this game has a VR mode now. Considering the sheer mind-numbing beauty of the scenery, I may be making a new purchase soon and will have to come back to this review to share my thoughts. The game itself (non-VR) is not expensive; typically around $20 but even then, I see it on sale fairly regularly (it’s an older game now). I often determine how much I will pay based on game length and this one comes in between 4 and 6 hours. I typically wouldn’t recommend paying full price for such a short game, but the visuals are masterful, and we all pay more for artwork than it is necessarily “worth”! It’s a personal decision, after all and the artwork in this game is incredible.
Finish October off with a mystery. One that might break us either through the darkness of the discoveries or the beauty of the scenery! Enjoy and… Happy Halloween Gaming! ML
Somewhere, out there, there’s a mystery to be solved.