by Sam Smith
At the very top of the supernatural detective thriller, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter it proclaims that ‘this game is a narrative experience that doesn’t hold your hand’, which struck me as rather odd and jarring. The fact that it had to tell you this in no uncertain terms came across a bit like a stand-up comedian telling you how offended you’re going to be by his jokes.
The story follows psychic detective Paul Prospero as he receives a letter from a missing boy and sets out to unravel the story behind his disappearance. This involves investigating an interconnected series of crime scenes and, using Paul’s psychic abilities, piecing together evidence to advance the story. Except, he’s not really psychic, as he’s seeing things that have already occurred, so the complete opposite of a psychic, but nevertheless.
“It’s ostensibly a point and click adventure slash walking simulator”
Whenever you come across any relevant clues, a prompt will appear on-screen and you can ‘see’ how it fits into the overall crime scene, like Monk, only with ESP instead of OCD. It’s ostensibly a point and click adventure slash walking simulator, equal parts Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Myst. Though the puzzles are so tricky to unravel, it makes the latter seem easy by comparison.
Part of the problem comes from the fact that the game makers seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel with regards to the puzzles, which are the main thrust of the game. For starters, when you come across something you can interact with, Paul’s thoughts will pop up on-screen as a sort of stream of consciousness, though it comes across more like he’s got some form of Sherlock influenced Tourette’s. Words and images seem to appear and disappear with little to no context of any kind. The whole thing is just confusing and instead of drawing you in to the game’s world, keeps you at arm’s length.
“The whole thing is just confusing and instead of drawing you in to the game’s world, keeps you at arm’s length.”
Then, you’re supposed to figure out how all these seemingly disparate things link together to form a miniature crime scene. Once you’ve accomplished that (probably by trial and error rather than actual skill), the people involved in the crime will appear as ‘postminitions’ (the opposite of premonitions) before your eyes and apparently part of the role of a psychic detective is to piece them back together like a giant murdery jigsaw. Does that make sense? Try playing it with absolutely no context or explanation. I know it said that it doesn’t hold your hand, but damn, game! Sometimes we like our hand being held.
And your reward for all of that donkey work? You get to read a series of increasingly pretentious stories, supposedly written by a 10 year old boy. I don’t know whether or not this is meant to advance the story, but it doesn’t. They’re definitely meant to be metaphors for…things, I guess? With only the tiniest scraps of story being thrown to the player, there’s precious little making you want to actually carry on. Some people will point to this as a mark of detached intellect and how it’s not meant to be lapped up by the masses, but I didn’t exactly sign up to decipher the works of Stanley Kubrick.
“I actually tried ending his life on more than one occasion to try and stop it (throwing myself off a cliff and walking into the sea)”
The bottom line is that the game relies far too much on its abstract and vague nature as a selling point, when that’s the main reason for me not to play it. Every character speaks irritatingly in riddles, rather than how normal human beings talk, and the piss poor narration by Mr Prospero is so nauseatingly cheesy, I actually tried ending his life on more than one occasion to try and stop it (throwing myself off a cliff and walking into the sea, respectively). Doesn’t work as you can’t die in this game.
Graphically, the game is equal parts gorgeous and soulless. Some of the scenery is truly breathtaking, lots of sun-dappled forests and snow-capped peaks, but it does feel like you’re walking through a tourist brochure, with how synthetic and airbrushed it all seems.
The music and sound effects are both well implemented, so that when the soundtrack changes gear, you’ll instinctively brace yourself for something happening and every creak of a tree or rustle in the wind gives you the distinct feeling of being watched.
“This ultimately is a wanker’s idea of game difficulty”
Speaking of which, I found it quite distracting that there were no characters to interact with throughout the game, unless you count the Obi Wan Kenobi style holograms that appear in the postminitions. This gives the game an empty feel, which rather than adding to the atmosphere, ends up detracting from it, as you’re constantly hoping you’ll just run into someone to speak to (the exact opposite of what happens when I leave the house).
This ultimately is a wanker’s idea of game difficulty, making things so pointlessly and needlessly abstract that whenever you do solve a puzzle, it’s through dumb luck and guesswork, making it a rather hollow experience.
Gameplay – 2/5 – The meandering and illogical nature of the so-called puzzles make this a frustrating experience from start to finish.
Audio/visual – 3/5 – Thoroughly decent graphics and music, although it feels somewhat glossy and fake throughout.
Future classic – 1/5 – An outside chance if annoying puzzles and run-of-the-mill story elements become the in thing, but otherwise this one will be forgotten about, and quickly.
Controller smashability – 4/5 – Weirdly, it’s the rare occasions you succeed that warrants this response, as the nonsensical and random nature of the game does make you want to break things.
Memories – 0.5/5 – I had to Google it to make sure I’d written the title correctly, so that tells you all you need to know, really…