The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (PC) 2014
Strike me ignorant, I had no idea about this game at all until it appeared on my Steam recommended list.
As a result I really had no idea what to expect but all I had to do was get a quick glance of the visuals to quickly add to my basket.
Vanishing is a detective / murder mystery type game with a heavy supernatural flavour to it so expect to broaden your mind a little as you are dragged into the most vividly realistic computer game environment I’ve ever seen.
Admittedly I have a top spec Alienware laptop I play PC games with. It has 8gb GPU memory, so with everything on max I was frequently interrupting myself from daydreaming mid-game where I would often find myself just watching the environment.
Water flows with an eerie, hauntingly realistic depiction of physics and nature as mini whirlpools dance over stones whilst pebbles ripple and fade under gently lapping tides. The sun creates an intoxicating haze over forest woodland as grass blades and trees wave under the gentle breeze. I do not speak lightly when I say the sense of utter immersion is absolute in a way I’ve never experienced in a game.
There is no HUD nor are there any obnoxious condescending hints that can often give a game up. Instead we’re trusting instinct in a naturally cohesive and behaviourally appropriate way. There’s some well presented context sensitive calls to action, such as ‘inspect’ or ‘use item’, but these aren’t presented in the typical survival horror style game where you find yourself trying to use every model in the game in the vain hope it has an action.
As a supernatural detective you arrive after responding to a call from the child, Ethan, a troubled young boy with oppressive relationships with his extended family. After events so far unknown, his family forces him to flee and disappear. Arriving in this magical place it’s not long before you’re faced with your first crime scene.
I will refrain from describing any more of the tale. For £14.99 what you have is a remarkable technical achievement that has made me reassess my aesthetic expectations in gaming. I’ve not been so impressed since Half Life 2 and I suspect if Valve were to release the next Source engine it wouldn’t be too dissimilar to this.
The game itself is not perfect. The narration is sparse so when the voiceovers interrupt, its wonderfully immersive and does not patronise in the way narration often feels the need to hand hold (in fact the game specifically opens up by telling us literally that “it will not hold our hands”). They can often be a welcome break from the deep, investigative nature of the game. But the game does itself a disservice as it descends somewhat into the realms of cheap gaming horror, which betrays its underlying maturity. This wouldn’t be so bad but with such a strong flow throughout the game, this temporary weakness breaks the immersion.
There’s also a lot of backtracking and no ‘map’ to go by. Instead we have to rely on our visual memory in what is a very large, extraordinarily beautiful environment. If it weren’t for this consistently pleasing aesthetic, the constant back-tracking would quickly become a bore, but there’s so much visual appeal you’ll find yourself frequently stopping to just stare at a tree stump, or read the writing on a tombstone.
My PS4 was stolen and I recently sold my Xbox One. Steam is on fire lately with some of my fondest gaming experiences being witnessed on daily new releases. Add to that my pre-order of the Oculus Rift, I have huge hopes for the future of gaming, especially if this incredible title is anything to go by.