The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

This relatively short indie game was released last year to great praise among pc fans but only recently I played it on the PS4. Yep, it’s not strictly IF, let alone textual IF - in fact, it’s a wonderful graphical powerhouse putting Unreal Engine 4 to good use. Still, it relates so well to IF in so many ways that I fear I have no one to turn to in order to discuss its merits other than the IF community. I mean, console players are usually notoriously obtuse when it comes to the merits of interactive media to anything that isn’t yet another dumb shooting spree with lame cutscenes and oneliners, which this game definitely is not about.

In the game, played in first person viewpoint like any FPS but entirely lacking any shooting mechanics or violence - like most IF, “violence is not the answer to this one” - you play as Paul Prospero, paranormal investigator, just arriving at the countryside county home to Ethan Carter, a youngster gone missing, who supposedly wrote a letter to Prospero seeking for help regarding his family’s doings. Set in a lush pine forest painted yellow in the first hours of morning, near lake and creeks, a railroad running by the side and a dam in the distance. Unfortunately, among all the breathtaking scenary, Prospero will meet some corpses that show not everything is fine in that beatiful countryside. So, at heart this is a crime investigation game where you roam around exploring your surroundings looking for clues. And walking and exploring is pretty much it as the game is more puzzling than featuring actual puzzles.

Touching on corpses and other kinds of objects will trigger Prospero’s supernatural sensing abilities, which can make him see what happened on the scene once he has collected all the clues. Then he’s shown the scene in out of order fashion, and it’s up to the player to figure out the correct order of events. That’s the core of the game. Some events you’ll encounter along the way allow you to dive into Ethan’s richly imaginative psyche and in them we see the pulp fiction literary heritage the game draws upon in gracious WTF manner.

Voice overs in film noir fashion complete the setting, either Prospero talking to himself as he unravels plot points or as he goes by particularly moody spots. He can also sense past dialogues of Ethan’s family in the deserted town.

I can’t talk more about it without ruining it with spoilers. Just found it well worth the IF label as it is mostly a game of walking around a map, observing events, solving a few puzzles and collecting objects. In that fashion and the minimalist approach to telling the story, I find it vividly similar to the original Adventure and also Zork. There’s a setting and tales, the rest is up to your imagination on how to interpret it. Right, there’s a main plot that is more distinctively laid out than either of those 2 classics, but the feel is the same. Try for yourself. There’s also a remarkable and well-known IF trope found in many of the best in the genre, but I’ll leave it untold not to spoil your experience.

Interesting. I’d never heard of this one. I’ll hunt it down, thanks!

I had picked this up at some Steam sale, namekuseijin – thanks for the review! That makes me want to give it a go right now. :slight_smile:

so, Sherwin, got any kick out of it?