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Indie Spotlight: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

By Aidan Kearney

In the foggy woods within Red Creek Valley, a child goes missing. Before he disappears, Prospero receives a letter from the child asking for help with disturbing information on supernatural phenomena. Paul Prospero, the game’s protagonist, is a detective with paranormal abilities who travels to Red Creek Valley to find this boy, Ethan Carter.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was just recently released on September 26, 2014 as the first game developed by Polish indie developer The Astronauts. The Astronauts are a team of eight people, three of which originally branched off of Epic Games Poland, the makers of Painkiller, and co-developers of the Gears of War series. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an incredibly impressive project that is very different from their usual action style.

This explorative mystery is an open-world adventure game with gameplay mechanics that harken back to point and click games such as the Monkey Island series and Dracula: Resurrection, but in a first-person perspective. You solve various puzzles throughout the game by inspecting items and the utterly gorgeous environment around them.

Refreshingly, the game informs you that it won’t hold your hand as you solve these puzzles. The first one can be missed entirely if the player decides to stay on the path they start off on rather than exploring the area around it.

I am totally, definitely not speaking from experience.

The influence, and overall atmosphere of the game, is that of twentieth-century tales of the macabre. Mystery, murder, and the unknown await you in Red Creek Valley, with secrets waiting to be uncovered using Prospero’s paranormal ability to see through the spectral realm and locate puzzle pieces and piece together timelines that will reveal how Ethan disappeared.

The woods within Red Creek valley are beautiful and mysterious, with an ominous air about them. The atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the game’s absolutely beautiful soundtrack and audio design. To fully hear every single layered piece of music within the soundtrack, the developers recommend on their website to play with headphones, and hearing every aspect of the beautiful soundtrack produces an amazingly immersive effect.

Where the game really shines, and encourages the player to explore, is the detail of the environment within The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Dense foliage covers the ground and sways in the wind. Dust within the crumbling, decaying buildings hangs in the air and clouds the decrepit rooms. Tiles on a church located in the game are more worn than others, chipped off on certain sides and mold settles in. This is due to the developer’s use of photogrammetry.

Photogrammetry uses a specific algorithm that allows designers to create photorealistic 3D models from real world objects. Developer The Astronauts took the time to capture photos of every piece of rock, tree, grass, and building at nearly every angle possible and used them to create their autumn woods of Red Creek Valley. The results are breathtaking to say the least.

Between the breathtaking visuals, ominous but beautiful soundtrack, and story that plays out similar to a Stephen King or macabre novel, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter gives you a sense of progression as you solve different pieces of the mystery and explore more areas of Red Creek Valley
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is currently available on Steam for $20, and set for a release on the PlayStation Store for the PlayStation 4 sometime in 2015. The Astronauts deliver an impressive, next-gen adventure game with a quality story that is definitely worth experiencing.