The Vanishing of Ethan Carter review for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: The Astronauts
Developer: The Astronauts
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Mentally, I?ve always slotted The Vanishing of Ethan Carter alongside games like Firewatch, Gone Home, and What Remains of Edith Finch — which is to say, ?walking simulators that show the very best of what the genre has to offer. Looking back at when I first played it, it was around the same time as Everybody?s Gone to the Rapture, and just a few months before any of those other games. It naturally just kind of became part of that pantheon of genre highlights in my head, I guess.

Here?s the thing, though: whereas those games have stood up to repeated playings — in the case of Edith Finch, to spectacular effect — now that I?m playing Ethan Carter again, if I?m being totally honest, I don?t totally get why I held it in such high esteem.

Sure, it still does a good job of creating a creepy atmosphere. It may not look quite as sharp on the Switch as it does on other systems, but it by no means looks bad, and, besides that, this game isn?t meant to be a graphical powerhouse. It?s meant to be a mystery, and I found that the abandoned houses and big empty spaces that make up the game are every bit as mysterious as they were the first time around.

The major difference that I noticed this time, however, is that the game does a lousy job of living up to its stated goal of being a narrative experience. Like, it says that right in the opening sequence that that?s what the game is meant to be. And yet, unlike those other games I mentioned above that do a good-to-great job of telling a story, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter comes across more as a vague, disjointed idea than a solid narrative that needs to be experienced. Where those other games kept things tight by, at the very least, pushing you in a certain direction, Ethan Carter gives you those aforementioned big empty spaces and basically expects you to stumble across everything it needs you to.

To be fair, that?s not the worst way of telling a story. Found art — in whatever genre you want — can make for a pretty compelling tale. In this case, thought, it feels like you?re just wandering around, looking for dead bodies and puzzles to solve. There?s no sense of urgency, no feeling that you?re pushing the story forward in any way. In fact, it?s entirely possible that you can miss huge chunks of the story entirely, unless you?re in the mood to painstakingly cover every bit of ground, trying to find all kinds of little clues.

Obviously, looking back at that first time I reviewed this game, I was in that mood the first time I played The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. This time, however, I?m not. Maybe I?m just not in the right mood to appreciate a good, slow-burning mystery, maybe I?m just more protective of my time as I?ve gotten older, but I feel like there are better ways to spend your free gaming time than wandering slowly around a vaguely menacing environment in the hopes that you?ll stumble across something kind of compelling. More power to you if you?re someone who wants that experience — but if you are, I?ve got to say that there are other, significantly better games that offer the same thing, but in a much more interesting form.

The Astronauts provided us with a The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B-