The Vanishing of Ethan Carter – Secrets and Mysteries in Red Creek Valley

REVIEW – On the business card of our protagonist Paul Prospero the following reads: „Detective of the Supernatural”.  These days in Red Creek there is a huge demand for such a businessman as a child disappeared mysteriously. The disappearnce would not be too out of the ordinary, but before this vanishing a string of gruesome murders happened that are related to the disappearnce of this one child. Paul also has a big secret. His ability is that the events at a crime scene reappear to him in ghostly visions, and he can see exactly what happened. After seeing all the clues we will be able to seek out and find the lost Ethan Carter.

If I were to sum up the game in a few sentences it would be the following: The game’s ending will not be determined by your reflexes but by the conversations that happened in the game. At the beginning we are introduced to a small tutorial which shows us how the game works. Ethan Carter writes a letter to Paranormal Paul which asks for our help to this mysterious vallez. After that the game lets us go and allows us to experience everything.

For example in the tutorial there is no pointless duck, cover, jumping sequences like in other games. There is no mission indicator, and in fact you can miss important story related sequences if you do not look closely . Luckily the main story can be completed if you skip some of these sequences, but you will miss out on a lot of key elements from the overall story. We just have to observe the levels a bit more closely to achiecve this.

Freedom, I love it

Unfortunately the freedom in this game is as we think it is. In some levels if we get stuck the word „Crank” appears from which we are supposed to figure out the important element that we should be seeing. Even though the game does not hold our hand, it does try to take every precaution for the player to not to miss any important part. This can be quite annoying, because if do not wish to notice everything the screen will (would be ) flooded with „Crank” signs.

The main point is that while until The Vanishing of Ethan Carter tries to break out of the usual adventure game conveentions, it still tries to „guide” you and wants you to play it according to the developer’s way. These „spoilers” show instructions, or highlight Paul’s toughts which can be important. However certain items will not be so easy to find. As those can be just laying on the ground, and without any frame of refernce to determine how important they will be. If however there is a „examine me” sign next to a bloody hose and a dead body we ’ll know what to do.

Use the force, Paul !

Paul’s special ability does not stop at examining items, in fact that is only the beginning. Once we are able to reconstruct a crime scene, put the evidence to the correct places we will be able to reimagine the  murder. First the crime is revealed to us as blueish holograms, only showing certain events of the murder. If all of the parts are found, then we have to put them in the correct sequence. Did the couple look into the crypt before the murder ? Or they did do that after ?

Once we arrange everything into the correct order, the entire sequence will play out for us, just like as if we were sitting in a spectral theatre. If we missed something, or the sequence is incorrect then at that point the story simply breaks apart. In such cases there is no need for panic as we can simply try again, and again until the story sequence runs entirely and correctly. This feels great as we feel like directing a movie without any script. There will be easy and complex murders, but the last one will be so obvious we will feel stupid once the game asks us to put the sequence into correct order. Still even if these spectral “images” are pretty easy they still align really good with the overall tone and presentation of the game.

There are entirely different mysteries though in this adventure game. Puzzles that require memorization which to be quiet honest are made to be very difficult in this game.. There are so many symbols and different forms that I had to make screenshots of them so that I could solve them. A few of the puzzles were not too good and quite lame, in fact some were reminiscent of other games, but it is not too annoying.

Pretty little world.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks pretty good, but it will not be that frightening or scary. The scares are limited to jump scares, or feel really cheap in terms of execution. We can sort of figure out that there is going to be something scary appearing from that tiny corner of darkness. Regardless the game has its moments that rebalance the scale to being legitametly scary and shocking. There is a untangible dread that carries the player through the entire game, and this is also thanks to the main character’s lone wolf archetype.

As you are always walking alone through the levels. I did get a little scared when in the dead of silence I was searching for an item, and then suddenly the game thought to share Paul’s thoughts with me pretty loudly. Thanks … you nearly gave me a heart attack playing your game. The tension in the game is not built up slowly, but it does provide with a constant flow of terror as we will keep thinking something will happen right around the corner. I think this type of “scare” is a better way to handle horror than how most  modern horror games try.

The visual presentation as previously mentioned is great . This is one of the best looking outdoor adventure games that I have ever walked in. The lighting, the textures , even the leaves of trees are detailed.  I almost had the urge to stop every now and then just to take in all the scenery and spend a few minutes and enjoy it all. Look around on top of the dam, then the same from below, admiring the rays of sun light through the trees. The abandoned building’s details, walk through a bridge… All in all a great visual presentation. Infact in a slight moment I wish I could have moved to Red Creek. The sight of a bloody corpse did not even bother me at one point in looking at the beautiful scenery.

Wandering around alone, deeply engrossed in our throughts

The beauty of this adventure is mostly in the scenery. The most weakest link in terms of level design and detail is the old mine part. You will probably run around confused from one place to another in the dark betweeen the samey looking mine shafts. The fear factor will be so engraved in our brain that we will not care what happens next we just want to be out of there. Luckily the mystery at the end of this sequence pretty much saves this weaks link from being entirely unenjoyable.

The levels can be explored are pretty big, even though there is not too much to interact with in terms of items. There are a lot of long paths but we do not have to do anything else besides follow the clues. While some may enjoy this, at certain paths I was bored to death. While I  was walking for nearly ten minutes on a path I kept thinking: “There is probably such long empty gaps so that the developers can insert DLC down the line “.

Strangely enough this is the first game where, upon any sad event that happened to the characters did not linger on me too much. This is not to say that the events themselves were badly executed, but there is a lot of time to walk around the game world even during the clue finding period. So we have the time to  think about the events for a long period. The “spectral reimagining” sequences also play out rather quickly, and the found clues are pretty straight forward. While some games always had me pressing the space button to skip a cutscene so that I can finally progress with the game, here no such feeling ever was ever happened. As I was always interested in what event happens next .

I did not find the passing of time to be an important aspect. My first playthrough was around four and a half hours, this included a fourty minute backtracking to previous levels to check any missed things. I think the most skillful players (those who will speedrun it) will probably finish around 3 hours.  However it is worthy to note that the game experience is significantly better if we try to explore everything, and play it slowly . Since this is not that long of a story.


Save when we can. Can we ?

One issue that I had with the game is the lack of a manual save option.  I was playing once until late evening when I got tired of all the scares and mysteries of the game and just wanted to sleep. When I wanted to close the game a warning sign appeared saying “All unsaved progress will be lost” and that the game will be continued from the previous autosave.  Then I kept thinking “Wait when was the last autosave” and then my other thought was : “I have no clue”. Turns out the autosave icon that highlights when the game is saving is quite small.

Which proved to be an issue for me since I am not going to look at an autosave icon when I am so enthralled with the game. Since I did not want to lose one and a half hour worth of playtime. So I kept playing and with eagle eyes I looked for the blinking save icon and after 20 minutes and one solved puzzle later… I could go to sleep.

Strangely enough the next day when I booted up the game I was standing in the middle of the level , and I could not figure out whether the previous night’s puzzle was solved or not. Another few minutes later I was able to solve this small issue. It was a bit frustrating to say the least.

Summa Ethan Carterum

The save issue really frustrated me, and due to this the game did not achieve a full 5/5 mark in my perspective as it hindered the overall game experience. However in summary the game looks stunning, it is able to balance tension and mystery quite well. The puzzles are not too difficult or archaic in terms of the design, and the way to solve these are fun. The sound design is great, the story is nothing special but it is done well, and I found it interesting.  The “play” by the specters when recreating a crime scene is a great idea and very well done. It also fits really good into the overall gameplay design.



+ Large / expansive gameworld
+ Cinematic presentation when the murders are reconstructed
+ Beautiful presentation
+ Great new method of doing detective work


– Sometimes too boring when walking alone for long streches of time
– A few puzzles too easy
– One or two levels are annoying
– Short story


Editor: The Astronauts
Developer: The Astronauts
Genres: adventure, horror
Publication: 2014 September


The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Gameplay - 7.4
Graphics - 9.1
Story - 8.3
Music/audio - 8.2
Ambience - 8.4



The game looks stunning, it is able to balance tension and mystery quite well. The puzzles are not too difficult or archaic in terms of the design, and the way to solve these are fun. The sound design is great, the story is nothing special but it is done well, and I found it interesting. The “play” by the specters when recreating a crime scene is a great idea and very well done. It also fits really good into the overall gameplay design.

User Rating: 4.3 ( 1 votes)

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Jay P. Sonix comes from the world ('word') of lyrics and media infrastructure. He worked for a premium media company and produced 200 radio jingles. Cinemas are like his 2nd home. His motto is: ’Watch the movie, catch the moral’. Besides articles he produces hiphop music - can be found on SoundCloud. His mission is to make life happier.

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