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Just submitted a review
posted 9/29/2014 4:28:27 PM

For Ethan Carter.

"You are Paul Prospero, a sort of psychic detective. As the narration tells you, this is your last case. A boy--the titular Ethan Carter--has written you for help, and you have traveled to northern Wisconsin to do your thing.

And this is basically all the back-story you get with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. With the occasional splash of narration, this constitutes all of the story you are spoon-fed.

And I am fine with that.

The story draws heavily from weird fiction--Poe, Lovecraft, Howard, Smith--and the hallmark of weird fiction storytelling is to never too closely define the story. Leave it to the reader's intelligence and imagination to piece it together into an even greater cosmic horror. In case you're wondering how horror centered on New England inspires a story in the upper midwest: weird fiction finds its connection to Wisconsin through August Derleth, who was HP Lovecraft's posthumous publisher--founder of Arkham House--and intellectual guardian of the Cthulhu Mythos.

The game itself is short, basic, and beautiful. The developers did their research in copying landmarks from the northern parts of my fair state, including the Stavkirke on Washington Island, and put together a mostly convincing mining community. Like a David Lynch film: hidden behind the familiar and comforting facade of George Rockwell's America is a dark secret working its way through the seams, oozing black villainy.

As you explore the surrounds, you encounter supernatural events and a trail of bodies: this is where the game really shines.

In each case, your psychic powers come into play and you find clues which allow you to piece the events of the death together, and see how the killing went down.

There are negatives. Among them are the fact that the game is quite short. For $20, one would normally expect a little more longevity. Saving occurs only at checkpoints, which I found to be annoying when combined with a game bug which allowed me to create a situation where a later puzzle would be unworkable. To fix my mistake, I had to restart the whole game.

Many players will be disappointed by the apparent lack of "stuff" to do: like Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, or Gone Home this game is not full of action or survival horror, but is a narrative experience. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, like many in this budding genre, beg the question of what a game should be, is it merely entertainment or can it be art for the common man. Damn socialist realism to the dustbin of history, the true proletarian art is found on the PC. Frankly, I love narrative games. Why should we lower the intellectual bar for the sake of keeping the attention of the 140 character generation?

Which is interesting, since the development studio which brought us Ethan Carter, The Astronauts, was founded by Adrian Chmielarz, who is best known for co-founding People Can Fly (now Epic Games Poland), who gave us Painkiller, Gears of War, and Bulletstorm: three games specifically geared toward people with ADHD.

If this is indicative of what The Astronauts is capable of bringing to the table, supporting the studio verges on being a moral imperative.

Please, Adrian, spread your digital adderall across the land.

Console gamers seeking to break the shackles of Call of Battlefield 7: Cards of Dragons, fret not, the game is coming to the PS4 soon.

Overall, the The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a marvelous work. It takes the viewer on a beautiful and chilling self-guided tour through the horrors hidden deep in the hills and lakes of the North Woods. And, like all good works of weird fiction, it wets your interest and compels you dig out your old volumes of Lovecraft, Derleth, and Bloch."

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