Originally released on PC in 2014, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has made its way to PS4, completely remade in Unreal Engine 4. There is a FAQ on The Astronauts website going into more detail regarding changes, and there is an accompanying video showing the side-by-side graphical comparisons between the PC and PS4 versions.
TechRaptor’s own Andrew Otton reviewed the PC version last year, and the PS4 version is my first time playing the game, so think of this as kind of a 2nd opinion review of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter from someone whose first impression is the console version.
I’ll start out by saying that the game is absolutely gorgeous. All the vegetation sways with the wind and the landscape definitely sells the atmosphere. Walking through the forested areas reminded me of times walking through similar areas in my youth, and without a prompt or set goal guiding you, it really felt like you could get lost and not feel like your wandering is holding anything up. You set your own pace in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and that’s one of its best qualities along with the beautiful scenery.
However, at some point you’ll need to put off the sightseeing and get to work. You play as Paul Prospero, a detective with a knack for the supernatural and the ability to watch past events unfold given the proper conditions for the scenes are met. Seeing these events usually means finding some missing objects and putting them back in their proper place, or solving a small puzzle of some kind. When everything is in its place, you will see a few key parts of the event and it will be up to you to solve the chronology of how things went down in order to see the whole situation.
Unfortunately, aside from a couple other small puzzles—and one really ingenious one involving mapping out a house—the rest of the scenes are pretty much solved through finding an item or two, putting it back where it belongs, and putting the key parts in the right chronological order. While it serves to move the story forward, the method gets dull, and the rewards for each solved area are very tiny one or two-page excerpts of one of Ethan Carter’s many fantasy stories. The small bits of Ethan’s stories left behind are good, yet painfully brief reads and provide some insight into what kind of imaginative kid Ethan Carter is and how he can feel like a bit of outcast among his rural family, who are varying degrees of disapproving when it comes to his writings and fantasies.
This also brings me to the character models and voice acting. For such a finely crafted game world, where attention to detail looks like it was paramount, the character models looked disappointingly plain for the brief moments you see them outside of ghostly silhouettes. The voice acting, while not atrocious, left a lot to be desired and didn’t do much to convey the seriousness of the characters’ circumstances. I realize at The Vanishing of Ethan Carter‘s core is the sense of free exploration in an intricately created world, but I still feel that a better effort could’ve been placed on the characters being a little more than what they were.
Giving them some additional substance, along with expanding a bit on Ethan’s fragmented fantasy stories, would’ve gone miles into making the game all the more interesting overall. I’m inclined to agree with Andrew Otton’s musing in his PC review that the few real joys in this game are found off the beaten paths and don’t fit in with the main story, yet add something magical to the experience.
In the end, exploring the lifelike world of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and finding some of its more hidden surprises somewhat made up for the lacking story and short puzzling aspects. I just can’t help but feel with a little more effort in a few key places, this game could’ve been a real masterpiece. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is still an engaging and beautiful-looking experience that is well worth your time.