The Vanishing of Ethan Carter initially launched on Windows PC in 2014 and came to the PlayStation 4 (PS4) as a console exclusive roughly a year later. Since then it's been relegated to those platforms, so when news broke that an Xbox One version was coming, gamers were understandably excited. Even to this day, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of the most beautiful games out there. Its popularity not only stems from its visuals but also its gripping story which exudes intrigue throughout its campaign.

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Characters and story

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter gently eases you into its mechanics and abilities. The game is a first-person mystery experience focused on exploration and discovery. You step into the shoes of Paul Prospero, an occult-focused detective who receives a disturbing letter from a child named Ethan Carter. After realizing that the boy is in grave danger, Paul arrives at Ethan's home of Red Creek Valley, where events turn out to be even worse than expected.

The story is just as strong as the gameplay.

The game picks up right after Ethan has vanished in the wake of a brutal murder, which Paul quickly determines might not be the only local murder worth investigating. By the end of the game, even chasing astronauts and traveling to distant galaxies makes sense due to an unexpected twist. The story is just as strong as the gameplay.

Gameplay and mechanics

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is set in an open world environment which the player can roam around and explore at will. You can walk from one side of town to the other without having to pass certain missions. The game was created using Unreal Engine 4 and a revolutionary photogrammetry technology that allows for nearly photorealistic environments.

The gameplay is designed to showcase the environment.

The gameplay is designed to showcase the environment because it mostly involves walking around town, trying to uncover its secrets. There are some rather challenging puzzles to solve like determining how to get a dilapidated train moving again or walking through a series of mystical doors. There is a lot of trial and error involved, and the first hour of the game can feel quite frustrating because you don't know what you're supposed to be doing. I played the game on PS4 many years ago, and despite that couldn't remember how to solve many of the puzzles due to their complexity.

However, once you start figuring out Paul's abilities — like how he can communicate with the dead and see how they perished — it opens up a new avenue to gain clues. The ultimate goal is to find Ethan and deduce what happened to his family. According to the developer, revelations don't happen on their own, or without your help. Players must use both Paul's supernatural skills, and their own powers of observation, to uncover the mystery behind a trail of corpses, the truth behind an ancient force lurking in Red Creek Valley, and the fate of the missing child. The ending is quite possibly one of the biggest twists in any game and hopefully you won't see it coming.

Performance and resolution

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter features a few distinct graphical modes on Xbox One X. There are three resolution options which allow players to render the game at 1080p, 1440p or 4K. This version also allows gamers to unlock the frame rate so it goes up to 60 FPS when possible. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with a lot of these toggles.

First of all, when the 30 FPS lock is engaged, the frame rate seems to be a few clicks above the target so there is noticeable judder due to the uneven frame pacing. According to an analysis by Digital Foundry, the game runs at a curious 32 FPS when the 30 FPS lock is selected.

We recommend playing the game on Xbox One X because of the 1080p 60 FPS option.

Secondly, you have to lower the resolution down to 1080p to get an almost perfect 60 FPS on Xbox One X. However, the base console isn't so lucky. The frame rate widely fluctuates on a standard Xbox One so you have to either play it at 32 FPS or one that constantly changes. For this reason, we would recommend experiencing the game on Xbox One X because the 1080p 60 FPS mode is the best. Hopefully the developer will issue a patch so that the 30 FPS lock doesn't go above that.

While lowering the image quality to 1080p isn't ideal on an Xbox One X, you have to do it to achieve 60 FPS. The 1440p mode drops the frame rate down into the 50 FPS range too often. The resulting image might be significantly blurry on a 4K display due to upscaling, but it's still the best way to play The Vanishing of Ethan Carter due to the smooth frame rate. This is the only console where that's possible because even the PlayStation 4 Pro's "Boost Mode" can't accomplish that.

Glitches

There are a few noticeable glitches that stand out in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter on Xbox One. Aside from the performance problems, there is occasional texture pop-in. When you're walking around, you notice that certain large objects are very blurry. It takes the game a few seconds to load in high-resolution textures. Witnessing this can be a jarring experience because it takes away from the immersion.

The game needs a little bit more polish on Xbox One.

However, certain other structures like sheds don't load textures at all and are blurry throughout the game. It's unclear if the texture is just missing or there is another problem at play. This coupled with the crackling sound the game's audio exhibits from time to time makes it evident that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter needs a little bit more polish on Xbox One.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter review conclusion

Overall, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter remains just as appealing now as it was back in 2014. The photorealistic visuals stand the test of time and even in 2018 it looks absolutely breathtaking. It's definitely one of the best looking games on console with an equally moving story.

If you're looking for a gorgeous game with a strong story between those heavy-hitters this month, then be sure to check out The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Aside from its performance issues, the game is in many ways a masterpiece which every Xbox One owner should consider.

Usually when you come across Unreal Engine 4 titles on Xbox One, they're blurry, unpolished experiences. It's great to see that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is an exception. While it may not be as technically refined as Gears of War 4, which also uses the same engine, it's definitely up there.

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Pros:

  • Gorgeous visuals.
  • 60 FPS on Xbox One X.
  • Outstanding voice acting and story.

Cons:

  • Unstable performance.
  • Sound and visual bugs.
  • Introduction can be frustrating.

Outstanding

4.5/5

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter went on sale for Xbox One on January 19, 2018, priced at $19.99. The game is also available on Windows PC and PS4.

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