Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter: Review

Version Reviewed: 1.0.10706.0 (steam)
What I like: Wow it's beautiful! Nice ambient sounds and music too. Several fun puzzles.
Not So Much: A lot of walking around and searching for items to examine.
Other Stuff You May Like: About the right length for this type of game.
The Verdict: The presentation is top notch and the few meaty puzzles that are in the game are enjoyable. The story is interesting enough to pull you along. Worth playing if you can handle a lot of walking through the environment not doing much at times and can appreciate the above strengths.
About my reviews

Official site: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Disclaimer: No disclaimer. I purchased my copy.

Introduction

Call me shallow, but I was attracted to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for her looks. Before I started playing, I'd heard a little bit about the game. I knew people praised it's looks - who wouldn't! I knew that there wasn't a lot of game play in the game - also true. What I didn't know is if it was a game worth my time. I'm not a big 'adventure gamer'. I used to be in the days of Sierra Online - King's Quest and the like. This was the perfect type of game for me to pick up on sale, because I didn't know what to expect.

Looks Aren't Everything, But They Sure Do Help

I stepped out into the forest, a light fog slightly obscuring the trees in the distance. Beautiful. Even with anti aliasing turned up from the defaults the frame rate was good. Through out the game I kept my eye on performance and other than an occasional stutter it remained a pretty solid 45-60 fps. Since there isn't any action in the game this was more than sufficient.




Later when I emerged from the forest, the view was equally breathtaking.


OK, so we kinda new she was going to be a looker before we even met her. Does she have anything of substance to offer?

Examining What's Below the Surface

This is primarily a game about discovering the narrative, piece by piece. Information is gradually revealed through notes, newspaper clippings, narration, and other information you discover as you move through Ethan's world. As you'll soon discover, much of the game involved finding objects to examine and sometimes placing them in a particular location. No, you don't really have an inventory and these aren't intended to be tricky. It's pretty obvious what to do with an object if it has a place to use it. 

Some of the areas are wide open, and it isn't always obvious where to go. Having this freedom of movement makes the environment feel more real - but it does lead to some wandering. Eventually there is an invisible barrier that let's you know you're straying too far. Early on in the game, I didn't know if I had discovered everything I needed and ended up backtracking. I was right, I had missed something. Objects related to a given puzzle or narrative sequence tend to be in the same general area. Knowing this would have saved me a little bit of time, but there isn't any guidance in the game. This never caused any major frustrations as things are mostly straight forward.

After an hour or two, I was afraid the entire game would be like this. Strolling through the landscape, examining items, getting bits of story and moving on. The story had me interested, but typically that isn't quite enough to keep me going. I like to do stuff. I need something to solve, if nothing else. Luckily there were several puzzles that fit the bill and I enjoyed them a lot. The first puzzle you encounter really isn't so much a puzzle as a little series of interactions. So don't get discouraged, there are some better ones to come.

Parts of the game can be a little gruesome and I was OK with that. The game didn't really throw it in your face and it never seemed out of place. 

The game saves automatically after you've solved a particular set of clues or puzzle, so there is the potential to lose a small amount of progress. Since the game only took me about 5 hours to complete this was never really an issue, but if you know you will be quitting soon you probably want to do it right after an autosave.

Taking time to enjoy the sights.

Technical Performance

Other than some occasional stuttering, which was generally after alt-tabbing, the game ran smoothly.

My specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i& 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 7870.

Conclusion

I'd put The Vanishing of Ethan Carter as a close relative to Dear Esther (which I didn't like at all) and Gone Home (which I thought was pretty good). The game is definitely more about the narrative than puzzle solving, but 3 puzzles or so were quite enjoyable. While I was wishing I had more to actually do, the beauty of the presentation, the story and smattering of puzzles made the game worth playing. At 4-6 hours it neither wore out its welcome nor felt too short for the type of game it is. I think if you enjoyed the other two games I mentioned The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is worth a look. Having a little more 'game' to it may also make it worth playing if the thought of wandering around examining things doesn't turn you off too much. As a whole I'm happy with the time I spent with it.

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