The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a first person, open world, adventure game that is heavily focused on exploration and puzzle solving. You play as detective Paul Prospero as you set out to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of a boy named Ethan Carter.
Pro Heavily exploration based
With the exception of a few storyline gated or locked areas, you have the freedom to explore the entire game world from the very beginning. From the dark forests to the run down old houses, you can wander and go wherever you please, stopping to enjoy the scenery or investigate locations at your leisure. There are no linear story paths to follow and most of the puzzles can be completed in any order. This unhindered exploration allows you to explore the world and unravel the mystery completely at your own pace.
Pro Very surreal and mysterious storytelling
While the game starts out with the premise of a detective trying to solve the disappearance of a young boy, the story quickly takes a sharp turn and begins mixing in some very surreal, strange themes. These themes border on the paranormal and supernatural, and it quickly becomes apparent this is not a clear cut missing persons case. During the course of the game, the story keeps you guessing and invested as you try to figure out exactly what's going on. Additionally, due to the way you explore the nonlinear world, you might be witnessing events out of order which makes it even more mysterious.
Pro Immersive atmosphere
While wandering the landscape, it's easy to believe you are exploring an old forest and town lost to time. The buildings are run down and decrepit, the roads and railroad tracks are overgrown with grass, and save for the chirping of birds or the river babbling, it is eerily silent. Exploring around and poking into every dark corner of the vast wilderness, one can't help but feel a complete sense of awe and become fully immersed in the mystery.
Pro Gorgeous, state-of-the-art graphics
During development, real objects were photographed, scanned, and put into the game world using a process called photogrammetry. As a result, everything in-game renders as photo realistic without jagged lines or appearing pixelated. Everything from buildings and trees down to the smallest details like rocks and blades of grass look great.
Pro Challenging and rewarding puzzles
The puzzles require great observational skills with many clues being found only after thoroughly exploring the location in which the puzzle resides. Oftentimes, these clues are very discreet, well hidden, and integrated into the environment in creative ways. Piecing everything together can be quite a challenge at times as the puzzles provide no instructions, but also very rewarding as bits of the story are revealed after each successful solve.
Con Simplistic gameplay
There is very little direct interaction with the world outside of solving puzzles and reading notes. Much of the game is simply walking around and exploring. From time to time, you will stumble upon a location in which you can manipulate items to solve the various puzzles, read notes, and watch story cutscenes play out.
Con Horrible character models
They are very plain and look almost cartoonish in nature, which is a stark contrast to the photo realistic environment they inhabit. The same level of work that went into the game world didn't quite make it into the character models, and as a result, they are disappointingly bad.
Con Not much dialogue
For a game that is heavily steeped in storytelling, there is a surprisingly low amount of actual dialogue and spoken lines. While it doesn't detract much from the experience, some people might be expecting a lot more writing for a game that boasts its story as a selling point.
Con Repetitive puzzle solving
Without revealing spoilers, almost every major puzzle in the game is solved using the exact same logic. While the puzzles themselves are thematically different, the way you approach them and the mechanics they use are the same. After you've figured out how the first one works, you'll be applying the same basic principles to every puzzle in the game thereafter.
Con Pacing feels unbalanced
There is one notable part of the game where the player spends an uneven amount of time in that the environment is lackluster as well as holds many frustrating puzzles. This makes for what feels like unbalanced pacing and is an aggravating section of the game.