The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a first-person, story-driven mystery game, developed by The Astronauts using the Unreal engine and was inspired by early 20th century macabre fiction pieces. Exploration and discovery are the core components of this non-combat game, and its story is delivered in a non-linear way.In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter you play Paul Prospero, a detective who is spurred into action to investigate the mystery behind the ominous Red Creek Valley. Paul is able to psychically view the past by focusing on select objects, which reveal a small reel of images to him with clues. Your goal is to uncover these clues and piece them together to solve the myteries of the area and Ethan's disappearance. The game has no tutorial but uses basic WASD movement, and objects are investigated by left clicking when prompted. Players also can run with the L-Shift key and crouch using CTRL. One downside is no manual save feature, which means you're at the mercy of triggered auto-saves to retain your progress, which occur whenever you solve a piece of the mystery.
I found most of the object prompts fairly straightforward, but enacting the psychic visions proved a bit confusing at first. Multiples of the same word will pop up and you need to move around your point-of-view until the words coalesce together. Red Creek Valley itself is both gorgeous and unsettling. You can be strolling through a beautiful, scenic area just to encounter a sudden spattering of blood, or worse. The ambient sound begs for a headset to be worn, a mixture of gentle, lonely wind gusts, forlorn music and occasional bursts of spooky (or frightning, if you're as jumpy as me) noises. As you delve into Red Creek Valley, some of the visions become more complex, allowing interactions within the vision to reconstruct events in chronological order. Once reassembled the events will play out, revealing a chunk of story.
The story itself is delivered masterfully through the various clues you piece together. This is a tale that needs little dialogue and one you can approach at your own pace. Every clue is important, so keep your eyes peeled for them as you traverse through the area. While the developer states that the non-linear presentation allows you to progress through the investigation as you see fit, all clues are required to be uncovered to complete the ending, so it's better to just not miss any along the way. If you enjoy story, mystery and adventure, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter will surely strike a chord with you. For myself, I definitely enjoyed my time in the game and was impressed by how the story elements were presented. A manual save feature would be a great addition, and hopefully that's something that is looked into in the future.