The Vanishing of Ethan Carter: Something More

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Last week I blasted through The Vanishing of Ethan Carter in a few sittings. It’s great. In a lot of ways it’s the kind of game I’ve wanted for a while. I just wish there was more of Ethan Carter.

Is it too much to call this game 2014’s Gone Home? I liked the idea of Gone Home a lot because I like the idea of deeply exploring 3D spaces in games. Investigating a place by simply touching and looking into things is every bit as fun to me as shooting things in a game, and I jumped at the chance to play a game that was all about investigating a 3D place. Ethan Carter is that, but with a small town instead of one house, and it has some actual puzzles. It’s just that Ethan Carter is about four hours long.

I don’t know if I said it on this blog, but one thing that’s annoyed me about today’s games is how we get these absolutely beautiful, lovingly-designed environments in games like Battlefield 4 or Crysis 3, and all we do is shoot the people in them. You can blast the shit out of an incredibly detailed building in BF4, but where’s the game where you get to sift through the life of the person who lived and worked there through the story that building will tell? We have adventure games, but they are mostly restricted to 2D and low-quality graphics out of the realities of the market. Why can’t I have a game with the ideas of Gabriel Knight combined with the technology of Crysis?

That promise is what Ethan Carter and Gone Home are to me. And man, does Ethan Carter deliver in the visual department. The town of Red Creek Valley in this game absolutely looks like the place whose secrets you want to uncover, largely thanks to the prettiest textures I’ve ever seen grace an Unreal Engine 3 game. This game knows just walking through its environments is a treat in itself.

It’s just that, well, after around four hours, it’s over. I know that’s another restriction of budgets and the market. Before, we couldn’t have pure puzzle adventure games with high-end graphics. Now we can have pure puzzle adventure games with high-end graphics, but they have to be really short. I guess that can be fine too depending on replayablility, which is where things get really subjective.

Case-in-point: IcoIco is a game almost only about solving puzzles which is also about four-hours long (and was once $50) and basically offers nothing extra outside a few secrets. For some reason I love replaying that game. When I bought the PS3 version I promptly finished it three times. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I just really like traversing that game’s environments. Perhaps Ethan Carter will eventually show the same quality.

On the other hand, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a horror game with somewhat similar gameplay but actually has a completion time closer to 12-15 hours. I’d absolutely love an Ethan Carter of that length. A wave of these games has hit the PC indie space. If you spend any reasonable amount of time on Steam you’ll see plenty horror and adventure games that mostly just have you investigate mysterious and creepy 3D environments. Amnesia is likely a main influential force here. Maybe some of those other games managed to worked out a different balance between budget, gameplay, technology, and volume of content. I probably will start checking some out in the future. There’s a reason Routine is one of my most anticipated upcoming indies. The closest non-indie thing to this would probably be Alien: Isolation.

You know what I’ve wanted to see for a long time now? A full-blown open-world game that’s just a pure adventure game. A game with a huge world where all you do is just explore and talk to people. Maybe solve a puzzle here and there. That game seems like an impossibility in today’s market. Ethan Carter is like a micro version of that vision.

BULLETS:

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