The Vanishing of Ethan Carter redux is the type of game that is best experienced by going in blind and as a result, I will attempt to discuss what I liked/disliked about it without trying to spoil it. It’s highly reminiscent of how awful movie trailers are today, in attempting to describe/give a taste of what’s to come, the important parts of a movie/game are spoiled. This really surprised me because even as I played through the game, certain mechanics stood out to me, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fully discuss them because it’s best experienced/learned on your own. Attempting to go in depth about the game’s mechanics would spoil certain aspects of it and not doing so would result in better immersion, a big part of walking simulators like this one.
Without revealing too much, ECR is a highly atmospheric walking simulator that puts you into the shoes of a noir-type detective attempting to solve a mystery. I know that comes off as a mouthful, but that more or less covers most of what it offers without going into spoiler territory. Seeing as how it’s a walking simulator, the basic mechanics are there. It consists of FPV, a few puzzles, a lot of interaction with all sorts of items, even mundane ones, reading, and cutscenes that put you in the middle of the various situations. Most people, including myself, may turn away from walking simulator games due to them mainly being seen as something other than “real” video games, but ECR offers enough that I could say it’s not only a video game, it’s a great one.
One of the main attractions of ECR is its graphics, this game is visually stunning. Having just recently upgraded my GPU (I went from a 480 to a 1080), I was able to fully enjoy this one aspect of the game. This is the type of game that you’ll want to snap many screenshots and that’s exactly what I did, it even led to what I believe to be one of the best screenshots I’ve taken in a video game. With the high quality graphics you will be able to enjoy the many different locations offered such as dense forests, decrepit houses/buildings, a graveyard, and large bodies of water/sunlight.
Speaking of locations, ECR’s “level” design is fairly close to what I would describe as good to great and at times it vaguely reminded me of Dark Souls. When it comes to great level design, I mainly think of the first Dark Souls game, it’s a massive and expansive world that when fully examined reveals intrica
For the most part, ECR’s locations are what you’d expect to find in the nearby surroundings of a small town except many of the houses/buildings can be described as decrepit and then some. Everything just feels abandoned and lifeless. This is of importance because that along with low key ambient music contributes to the game’s moody/atmospheric feel that can at times be described as disconcerting.
Seeing as how the game takes place in Wisconsin, most of the game takes place near/around forests. There is a specific labyrinthian location
On the subject of possibly missing out on important things, that’s one of the few things that bothered me about ECR. This game was initially described as an experience that will not hold your hand and that’s true. Honestly, this could be viewed as both a good and bad thing. In not having your hand held you are able to experience the game for what it is and progress feels like an actual accomplishment, it ends up being worth it. On the other hand, the game is done in such a way that missing out on important items/clues can lead to the story getting jumbled up and you ending up lost as a result of this. You are eventually able to piece things together by endlessly backtracking through the game’s locations for possible hints, but it won’t result in what is ultimately a specifically structured story. On top of that, it could also be a while before you realize just what it is you’re really supposed to be doing in this game. The game’s mechanics aren’t clearly defined and it’s through trial and error that things are eventually fully revealed.
Another problem that relates to being lost and locations is the lack of a map. I guess you could say that this contributes to the mysterious feeling that is generally felt throughout the game, but it could’ve been done in such a way that it wouldn‘t have prevented the story/atmosphere from being ruined or doesn’t make the player suffer. Eventually you are able to orient yourself with the help of visible landmarks, but it could take a while before this is realized.
Though I previously stated that this game is visually stunning, that isn’t entirely true. At this point it’s probably me just nitpicking, but the textures in this game aren’t as detailed as other aspects of this game. From afar, everything appears to have fluid movement and high attention to detail, but that is entirely different when up close. When viewed from that distance, things can appear to be stiff and blocky. I feel that it’s important to note this because walking simulators generally consist of FPV and high attention to detail to make up for what some could view as a limiting subgenre of video games.
To conclude, I highly enjoyed ECR. Though it was a bit frustrating to be lost/confused for the first third of the game, I was eventually able to fully digest what the game offered as time went on. This is the type of game where you won’t be given hints or clear objectives and it is through your own observations that you begin to learn what needs to be accomplished. I know this game probably won’t be enjoyed by everyone, but I still recommend it. I will also say that even with what I viewed as its flaws, ECR is what future walking simulators should aspire to be, a narrative experience with enough to keep you occupied/entertained.