Review – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (Switch)

I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to playing The Vanishing of Ethan Carter that much. I have a very difficult relationship with walking simulators, especially those who clearly put their artistic values as a priority, instead of actual gameplay. Games like Gone Home, Tacoma and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are among some of the most boring “gaming” experiences I have ever had in my life. However, there are some little gems like The Stanley Parable, SOMA, Amnesia, and Observer to prove to me that this genre can deliver some fantastic experiences if enough effort is put into them. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter ended up standing in between these two categories. It was just a very average experience, which to be fair, is a lot more than what I was initially expecting from it.


I’m totally expecting for a redneck with a chainsaw to come out of the church and start hunting me.

The developers behind The Vanishing of Ethan Carter have tried to dismiss labeling the game as a walking simulator. They call it “a mystery game that is heavily focused on discovery and exploration”. They are 50% correct. This game is basically a four hour long, open world mystery thriller, but it’s still a walking simulator. The only difference being that it has brief sprinkles of gameplay scattered throughout its uneven campaign. You control a paranormal detective trying to find out what happened to the titular Ethan Carter, a boy who, for the lack of a better word, vanished after a series of gruesome events involving his family.

Right from the get-go, you’re greeted with a message from the developers. “This experience does not hold your hand”. In any other game, I would have rejoiced with said message, but with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, that message came off as arrogant. Dark Souls never needed to boast itself as a challenging experience on an in-game message, nor did any game from the 90’s. That being said, the developers are clearly not lying, the game just throws you into the setting without any explanation of where to go and what to do. That is equally interesting and frustrating.


Do I really have to?

This is interesting because the game is set on a small but open environment, meaning that you can tackle any mystery you find in any order without punishment. It encourages you to explore the environment, looking for clues, audio logs, and weird crap for you to interact with. This is also frustrating because, truth be told, this game isn’t very well-designed when it comes to its gameplay.

The overworld is not exactly big, but it’s too big for the amount of content included in this package. There aren’t many mysteries to unveil and some of them are hidden in a way that make them easy to miss at first. This forces you to backtrack for a long time if you near the end of the game and find out that you haven’t completed everything prior to the finale. It’s also unevenly paced, as it takes time for you to reach actual gameplay sections. All you’ll get in between them is a handful of audio logs. You’ll also have to pray for the game not to crash in between these sections, as I’ve experienced seven crashes throughout my playthrough. Seven.


“Scooby-Dooby-Doo, where are you….”

The mystery solving element of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is interesting, but a bit shallow. It ranges from reenacting crime scenes to tackling small yet interesting portal-based paranormal sections. There’s enough variety in here for the game not to be called a one-trick pony, but not enough for me to consider it a true mystery game. While I did appreciate that you could use your (minimal) psychic powers to witness the crimes just like in Call of Cthulhu, those rewards ended up feeling disappointing. Sure, they fed me with more information regarding the game’s plot, but the sad part is that the game’s plot isn’t that interesting, and in fact, quite predictable.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other aspects worth praising in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. One thing I really need to point out is how gorgeous it looks. Granted, it’s nowhere near as beautiful as the Xbox One X version, but I thought that visuals like these, with excellent textures and natural lighting effects, just weren’t possible on the Switch. Sadly, the character animations are nowhere near as realistic. The framerate is also very stable, with the game letting you choose between a completely unlocked framerate and locked 30fps. Just go with the latter. I also need to praise the developers for actually including a run button. That might sound dumb, but I’ve lost count of the amount of walking simulators that don’t feature a way for you to run around the map. Looking at you, Gone Home.


I wish I had a horse to ride on this old town road.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter ended up being a lot better than I expected, but it was still an underwhelming experience. It’s a truly gorgeous game that features visuals I never thought to be possible on the Switch’s hardware. It tries its best to distance itself from other walking simulators by featuring something to do in it, but its uninteresting plot, somewhat shallow gameplay loop, and overall pretentious feel annoyed me a lot. If you like solving mysteries and can’t be bothered to replay Return of the Obra Dinn for the eleventh time this year, this isn’t a bad choice, but don’t expect it to be an artistic experience like it thinks it is. It’s occasionally smart, but at the end of the day it’s short, shallow, and somewhat forgettable.


Graphics: 9.0

The graphics are fantastic. The overall texture quality and lighting effects are impressive for the Switch hardware, and the framerate is very stable. The character models and their animations are nowhere near as impressive, however, as they look like they belong on a PS2 game.

Gameplay: 6.0

The game goes a step beyond your average walking simulator by actually featuring a handful of mysteries to solve, as well as some sort of open-ended gameplay that allows you to tackle each mystery in any order you want. It’s not as impressive as it sounds, but it is something. And there is a run button, thank goodness.

Sound: 7.0

The main character might have a stereotypical “grumpy guy” voice, but his voice actor delivers a very good performance. The same can’t be said about the rest of the cast.

Fun Factor: 4.0

This game might feature a bit of proper gameplay that makes it a bit more entertaining than your average walking simulator, but it also features a very uninteresting and predictable plot. It’s also riddle with game-crashing bugs.

Final Verdict: 6.0

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.