With The Vanishing of Ethan Carter the Polish developers The Astronauts address all those players for whom it is not enough to be taken by the hand to experience a story. In an open world, players slip into the role of the detective Paul Prospero and visit the mysterious Red Creek Valley - including its dark side. 

The award-winning adventure game was recently released for the Xbox One, so that owners of Microsoft's consoles can finally enjoy the atmospheric mix of games with influences from Twin Peaks and HP Lovecraft. We went looking for Ethan Carter and we will tell you in the following game test The Vanishing of Ethan Carter whether the game can also convince on the Xbox One.


What takes a long time is finally becoming mysterious

What PC gamers and owners of a Playstation 4 have known since 2014 also penetrates Xbox fans around four years after the initial release: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of the prettiest video games that you can currently experience.

The background story of the open-world adventure is quickly told. As private detective Paul Prospero, who incidentally draws on supernatural powers, players go to the mysterious Red Creek Valley, the home of the missing Ethan Carter. Informed by a letter from the boy, Prospero travels through the purely fictional valley in search of Ethan. The world is the real star of the game. For around four hours, adventurers explore beautiful landscapes and discover a lot of supernatural, sometimes absurd and often frightening things.

Playtest: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for Xbox One
Playtest: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for Xbox One

The atmosphere of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is oppressive. Unlike video games like The Evil Whitin 2 from Bethesda put the developers The astronauts not pure horror, but an atmospheric mix of mystery and thriller. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter becomes a hybrid with elements from horror stories in the style of an HP Lovecraft and the X-Files, only without Mulder and Scully - but with an at least as casual private snoop who hardly leaves a game situation uncommented. What a player encounters in the course of the short story in Red Creek Valley often causes amazement, sometimes a shake of the head. This is not least due to the fact that the developers deliberately play with ambiguous details and do not answer all questions that players might ask. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter becomes a mysterious borderline experience that is fully focused on reenacting a story. Because that is the case, we do not use any kind of spoilers in this game test.  

Trailer for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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Good storytelling: Twin Peaks meets Lovecraft

As a detective with a supernatural flair, the character doesn't miss out on even the most surreal detail. The fact is: Something is wrong in the Red Creek Valley and you get to feel this fact as a player at regular intervals - be it through a comment by Paul Prospero or through one of the discoveries you make as a player yourself. The developers have managed to play with the emotions of the gamer in an impressive way without leading him on trodden paths through the game world.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter does not take players by the hand, but gives them the freedom to experience the game in their own way.

That sounds innovative and allows adventure gamers to ignore entire sections - at least until the grand finale approaches. At the very end it turns out that freedom finds its limits in what the developers have come up with as a conclusion. Anyone who skipped sections of the game will be forced to catch up on missed puzzles towards the end - including all the ways back to the necessary locations. This design decision is ultimately doubly tragic: on the one hand, because players have to recognize that the playful freedom was only an illusion and, on the other hand, because it unnecessarily reduces the replay value. How nice and useful it would have been to simply experience abandoned puzzles in a second round - especially since the ambiguity of the narrative levels almost animates the player The Vanishing of Ethan Carter play through one more time.

Great look. Great sound. Shallow puzzles.

The The Vanishing of Ethan Carter there is something on the ears - and on the eyes. The Polish developers give themselves during the presentation The astronauts no nakedness. The graphic representation is one of the factors that makes it easy for players to immerse themselves in the world and thus the history of the mystery game. Of course, the enhanced support of the console monster Xbox One X is used, so The Vanishing of Ethan Carter runs impressively in 4K. The game world implemented by means of 3D scanning is detailed and looks a lot better in moving images than in static screenshots. One could almost say that the technology of photogrammetry was developed for this very video game. It's just fun to hike through the beautiful landscapes, marvel at the grandiose light effects and solve one or the other shallow puzzles.  

The great look shouldn't hide the fact that gamers have relatively little to do overall. Most of the experience takes place in the minds of the players. This is great, but it leads to noticeable lengths - but not to boredom. In particular, the forest sections of Red Creek Valley feel comparatively passive, which is a shame, as the open environment could have told a lot more. At its core, it's about getting the events in the right order. Detective Paul Prospero uses his psychic powers to do this, but for the player this means nothing more than clicking on clues, enjoying snippets of the story and then walking to the next scene. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is well told, but not particularly interactive. The few strands of the puzzle always follow a similar pattern and are unlikely to pose any major problems even to non-gamers. The whole thing has one decisive advantage: the player focuses on his perception of the content and follows his emotional feelings. One regularly asks oneself how the idyllic game world looks and which mysteries lurk on its shadowy side. This experience is supported by the extremely realistic design of the surroundings. The landscapes could have sprung straight from a photo album - and they have a similar effect on the player as photo memories: What do I feel while I wander through the game world? Where does the discomfort come from when I discover certain details? What are the additional meanings for me?

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a detailed project that ultimately looks like an interactive novel - only without significant interactions.   

The soundscape is almost even better than the graphics. The English setting is excellent and conveys feelings and impressions from the digital environment directly to the players in front of the screen. The extensive soundtrack is also convincing. In contrast to the rather sparse sound environment while playing. Sure, it's a rather quiet world in which you spend up to four hours of gaming time, but the developers would have the players of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter can provide a more intense auditory experience.

Infobox

Number of players: 1 player (online)
Age: from approx. 16 years
Playing time: 20+ hours
Difficulty: medium
Long-term motivation: medium

Publisher: Tencent Games
Developer: Tencent Games
Release year: 2019 (Early Access 2018)
Platforms: PC
Language: multilingual
Costs: Free-to-Play up to EUR 2,39 (Founder's Pack)

Media on Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Summary

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter lives from the skills of the player to be able to immerse themselves in a digital world. The sooner the player is ready to let the impressions work on him, the more intense the personal gaming experience will ultimately be. That makes it difficult the quality of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter However, judging clearly speaks in favor of the ulterior motive that the team has of The astronauts must have done during the entire development phase. In contrast to other puzzle games, different levels of interpretation ensure that you want to play this mystery thriller at least one more time. Alternatively, you can use the new game mode Free roam back, which was integrated especially for the current Xbox One version. In this free game mode, players can enjoy the virtual world completely relaxed, away from the story. There are no puzzles, no distracting story - just the game, the game world and the great sounds. 

As a player, you can be curious to see what the development team has come up with The astronauts will be implemented on projects in the future. With The Vanishing of Ethan Carter In any case, the Polish designers succeeded in creating a remarkable work that won the BAFTA Award 2015 in the “Game Innovation” category for a reason. Even if one searches in vain for playful innovations - even playful interactions - offers The Vanishing of Ethan Carter passionate gamers more than enough incentives for a trip of several hours to Red Creek Valley.

The great staging contrasts with the fact that you hardly feel like a player, but more like a spectator who is allowed to intervene in the action at a predetermined point without creating major changes. Even if The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an open-world adventure, playful freedom remains limited. As if on rails, you follow the scenes and are guided back to the neuralgic points via set switches if it is necessary for the conclusion. The game gives away a lot of potential, even if it remains above average overall.

Nonetheless, the adventure is from The astronauts a terrific pastime for fans of the supernatural.  

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