Every family has their dark secrets. At least down here in ‘God’s own country’. Having been born into a highly religious family in Southern India (just see my full name), I grew up around all sorts of weird and anti-progressive stuff. I’ve been told that my great-grandfather had the ability to cure a snakebite by summoning the snake responsible for the bite and have it suck out the poison. I heard he later died of a snakebite. Then there were the worshipping ancient deities, spirits and you’d occasionally see an aunt or any other relative get ‘possessed’ and dance hysterically like its boogie night during these rituals. I wish I could have what they smoked. Anyways, it’s how I got a penchant for anything related to the occult and the paranormal. Don’t get me wrong, I often act like a Catholic nun in front of a Las Vegas hooker around these types of things, but it’s always interesting to see, hear and read about paranormal stuff. It’s one of the prominent reasons why I got sucked into The Astronauts’ The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Now, was it necessary to ramble this much just to make this point? Well, it’s my weekly column. Deal with it!
Jay Got Baited (Jabaited?)
Truth be told, I really got baited into playing The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. As I said, horror-themed stuff freaks me out. But somehow, that doesn’t stop me from watching horror flicks at 3 AM in the morning. Like how I watched Hereditary last day and couldn’t sleep till the sun hadn’t come up. Why do I do this to myself? Regardless, I always try to maintain a safe distance from horror games. Look, man, I don’t want to die early having a heart attack, ok? Having your testicles chewed off by a crocodile, now that’s a good way to go. Anyways, I always thought that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was a chill walking simulator with a serene atmosphere. I thought it was like Firewatch and writing that piece was the easiest thing I’ve done since I started to work for Indian Noob. I always go for the easy stuff. Therefore I family shared Ethan Carter from fellow noob Armu, thinking that the experience would be gorgeous and pleasant.
I was wrong. I was so wrong. The game is not one of the things mentioned above and it’s gorgeous. I had no idea that it was a frigging horror game. I’d have stayed the hell out of it if I knew it was. I came to know of this the hard way. The opening moments in the walk-o-puzzler is as relaxing and serene as it gets. You start out in this mildly foggy and drop-dead beautiful forest with no objectives, no hints, nothing. Like any jolly gamer, I ran around like a madman exploring every nook and cranny. I did find a few traps along the way that kind of creeped me out, but this was a forest after all. A new contextual action popped out all of a sudden and I wasted no time getting to it. Bam! Suddenly, I was standing amidst a patch of burnt forest with charred bones and a creepy music playing in the background. It was so unexpected that I almost jumped out of my seat. A newspaper cutting lying around provided some info on what happened and thankfully, I was back in the woods. Right there, and now I came to know that this was not the game I was expecting and that this was the first of many creepy and disturbing things to happen in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has you donning the role of paranormal detective Paul Prospero who comes to an almost abandoned mining village (straight out of a Stephen King story) as per the request of his 12-year old fan, Ethan Carter. Apparently, Ethan has gone missing and Prospero is sure that something wicked is going on. The rest of the story revolves around dark family secrets, the occult and an ancient being: a storyline that’d make Cthulhu proud. The game stays true to its description of “no hand-holding” pretty damn well and is mostly the successor to the point and click adventure games of the early 90’s and the 2000’s. So it’s up to the player and his wits solve crime scenes, unravel puzzles, figure out where the hell to go next and find the strength to keep playing.
One of the elements that bug me in modern horror games is their reliance (over) on jump scares. You can’t walk five feet without something nasty jumping in your face. But that isn’t the case with Ethan Carter. The game is inspired by the works of Poe, Lovecraft, King and all the weird fiction from the early 1900’s. The horror is cosmic and atmospheric. It’s the fear of the unknown that drives the game forward. The path to slowly discovering this sinister plot is filled with moments of tension and eeriness. The silent woods, dilapidated train tracks, unattended dam and the river below, ruined houses, an abandoned mine and the dead- all have their story to tell. There’s something in the digital air of Ethan Carter and you can smell it.
Ethan Carter achieves this exemplary level of atmospheric horror thanks to its amazing audio-visual design. The first thing you notice when booting up the game is how frigging fantastic it looks. I’m not kidding when I say that no game has impressed me with its visual presentation as Ethan Carter have since Alan Wake and Firewatch. I’m told that the game uses something called photogrammetry to implement photorealistic textures and a life-like visual style. My words can’t do the graphics any justice. Just look at the screenshots man. The game is so breathtakingly beautiful that you may want to just stand at one place enjoying picturesque views of the Red Creek Valley and forget about the sinister plot that’s going about. The visuals of the game achieve success in making both scenes of life and death seem just a touch away. No other way to describe it than say it’s ‘hauntingly beautiful’. Then there’s the excellent dynamic audio which works together with the eerie soundtrack to create an environment that’s serene and oppressive at the same time. Do yourselves a favour and try using a 7.1 surround headset when you play this game. Thank (or curse) me again later.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is how you do a walking simulator right. There are just enough things to do and see in this one. The intriguing story, gorgeous graphics, engaging puzzles and an emotional ending makes the game worth playing. Do note that I played the redux version which features better graphics, a revamped save system, less backtracking and all that jazz. I see the game as an evolution of the point and click adventure games from back in the day, especially the ones published by The Adventure Company. I wouldn’t hold it against you if you use a guide to find your way around Red Creek Valley. You’ll have an amazing experience anyways.