This article gives our impressions on the PS4 version of the game.
Ethan Carter is one of the first Unreal Engine 4 games on Playstation 4 (aside from Daylight and Ether One). To achieve this, The Astronauts actually provided an upgrade from the game’s original PC release which shipped using Unreal Engine 3. According to the development team, they chose to do this for additional effects and to offer further improvement, but also because the PS4 doesn’t actually support Unreal Engine 3.
Here’s my problem. While Ethan Carter is, unquestionably, among the most beautiful Playstation 4 releases to date, it hasn’t proven to me that other, faster-paced games originally developed using this engine compliment the platform and make it the primary destination to experience UE4 games on. Sure, developers learn how to work with an engine overtime and how to adapt it so it maxes out its full potential, but I must confess, these early signs are a little worrying. Ethan Carter regularly stutters, stammers and hiccups as you play through, which isn’t too much of an issue as the game is never time-sensitive and you rarely find yourself in a situation of grave peril, however, it quickly becomes very noticeable and distracting. This is because the team pushed UE3 to its absolute limits and tried doing things the engine wasn’t actually meant to do. In that regard, UE4 was always going to be a logical progression, but unfortunately those issues have still carried across.
For a puzzle-driven experience like Ethan Carter however, performance isn’t everything, and the game’s visuals more than make up for the occasional disruption. The barren makeup of Red Creek Valley, Pennsylvania in Ethan Carter, is incredibly refreshing, allowing nature to be the star, front and center. There’s rarely any interactions in the game, other than Paul Prospero, the lead protagonist, talking to himself about the area and his investigation. It soon becomes pretty clear that you’re alone out there.
You’ll often find yourself stopping to stare at the dazzling sun in the sky, seeing it sparkle as its rays carry across flowing water. You might be able to move a few more paces, but it won’t be long before you’re stopping and staring at something else, whether it’s the flora and fauna, or a series of trees, or grains of sand. In fact, a lot of the game’s run-time is probably dependent on you actually standing back to appreciate the scenery.
I say that because you could probably run through Ethan Carter in about 2-3 hours, but if you managed that, i’m willing to bet you either have a guide in front of you, you’ve played it through before, or you have an incredibly high IQ. You’re also not really a graphics person. (Though please feel free to prove me wrong in the comments)
Prospero has made the trip to Red Creek Valley in order to investigate a series of murders and strange disturbances. The game bares some similarities to Square’s Murdered: Soul Suspect in that you’re piecing together the timeline of these murders by reconstructing certain scenes in chronological order. Once enough clues have been found, Prospero can rip away the scenery and revisit the past through restless spirits. These murders are also used as narrative devices to give you more information about the characters in the game, which, in turn, illustrates your reason for actually being there.
In addition to solving these murders, Prospero must also collect a series of stories left behind by Ethan Carter, each one focusing on a different theme. By collecting these stories, you also open up the map even further, which plunges you deeper into the mystery. There is no set order for the stories to be collected in, meaning you can tackle the game as you see fit. This also means, however, that you can beat the game without having experienced all of the intended story. In that regard, Ethan Carter is a very open-ended experience. It never tells you where to go, it never shows you your next destination. A lot of the time, you’re getting around on guesswork and experimentation. That instantly appealed to someone like me who grew up on a diet of Sierra, Lucasarts and Revolution games.
I did find some of the voice-actors under-performed with the lines they were given, though it doesn’t help that the writing sometimes tries to be overly convoluted and unnecessarily cryptic. However, with regular scenery changes and constant discovery, some challenging, but logical puzzles, all geared toward a satisfactory conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ethan Carter. It’s a game I can see myself revisiting in the future (if only to mop up one or two trophies that I missed). Red Creek Valley is absolutely beautiful, and gives us a real glimpse at the amazing things developers will be able to achieve with new technology in years to come. If you’re looking for a real showcase title to get your friends turned onto the idea of buying a new-gen console, or if you need to scratch a puzzle solving itch, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better alternative than The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
The Good Stuff
- Arguably the most beautiful game on Playstation 4 right now
- Refreshing approach to open-ended gameplay
- Some good, solid puzzle-solving
- Engaging narrative
The Bad Stuff
- Voice-acting can be hit and miss
- Some of the writing unnecessarily cryptic
- Some performance issues
We came away from playing this with a smile on our faces. The experience was enjoyable, memorable and fulfilling. We’d definitely recommend