REVIEW: ‘Ethan Carter’ is Dramatic, But Static

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  • reviewed on PS4 / Rated M / $19.99 / released July 2015
  • PURCHASE LINK: PlayStation Store
  • FINAL: You should TRY this game. 3 out of 5 stars

“The Vanishing of Ethan Carter” is a video game that sounds like a “Lifetime Movie of the Week.” As supernatural detective Paul Prospero, you are plunged into the mystery of a missing child. Young Ethan Carter is in trouble, and Prospero has almost no leads. What he has is the ability to envision the crime scenes he finds while exploring one of the best looking games around.

To keep up the realistic atmosphere, “Ethan Carter” skips most of the common video game elements you would find in similar games. There is no inventory, no interactive detective’s notebook, and no giant arrow telling you to which way to walk. Nevertheless, “Ethan Carter” is aware it is a video game and relies on environmental cues to help you along. If there’s a doorway, you should probably walk through it. If there’s a mountain path, you should follow it.

It is this naturalistic world that is the game’s strength. The quiet forests, rocky outcroppings, and burned out buildings are all stunningly presented. The game makes sure you spend a lot of time soaking in a perpetual sunset, walking from location to location across a good-sized chunk of land.

The detective work loop plays out like a hidden object game. You find an area with something obviously awry – like a pool of blood – and have to search the nearby area for clues. Assembling all of the clues will trigger a ghostly re-enactment of the scene, thanks to Prospero’s magical talents. The event’s finale will then drop a subtle clue about where you should go next, and you inch ever closer to solving the mystery of “Ethan Carter.”

None of these scenes are difficult to solve, but they do highlight the game’s glaring conflict between the beautiful scenery and the human characters that are just not ready for prime time. For a game that leans so heavily into uncovering a melodramatic story, it is plagued with distractingly lackluster performances by the cast and unconvincing character animations. It is also off-putting that “Ethan Carter” waits until the final five minutes of the game to ambush the player with a pile of unecessary swear words. Yes, there’s a twist ending, but no, it’s not much of a surprise.

In terms of sustaining a mood, however, “Ethan Carter” can’t lose. The game is contemplative and slow-paced, unafraid to let you drift and explore. The game’s dialogue and story just can’t match the prowess with which it lovingly renders its physical world.

This review is based upon product supplied by the developer. “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter” is available for PlayStation 4 and PC. Image courtesy The Chinese Room.

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