Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Review

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Review

Joel-Peter Nichols

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter from first time developers "The Astronauts" is a first person adventure game, with a bit of horror thrown in for spice. There is absolutely zero combat and requires you to use your wits, rather than your fists. But not many are going to play this game for the gameplay, sadly.
And the developers know this; visually the game is breathtakingly beautiful. From the 70's inspired landscape, to the foliage; this is an eyecandy experience for damn sure.

But that's where the positives stop. The plot is weak and somewhat predictable and the gameplay consists of your standard point and click puzzles we all know by now.

And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the game.

You walk in the shoes of "Paul Prospero"; a Private Eye with ghost-like abilities. He receives a letter from a young boy named "Ethan Carter" who has a sixth sense ability and is very aware of supernatural entity that has recently surfaced.
Paul soon heads to Ethan's home in "Red Creek Valley". Here he discovers a much darker, cynical side to this otherwise serene valley, as well as an impending investigation regarding Ethan's whereabouts. Without reaching spoiler territory, the narrative is very macabre and actually quite depressing. Whether or not the developers wanted you to sympathise with Ethan is an open-ended question. But what can be said is, it feels too "forced".

I really felt like I was walking around the world straight out of David Lynch's mind, or even "Cauldron Lake" from Remedy's "Alan Wake". It's way too quiet and "peaceful" and that's what really makes the place even more uncanny. As you learn more about Ethan and his family, you realize exactly what you're up against. But right when you think there's going to be this epic conclusion, it's over and leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

The biggest gripe I had was this "different antagonist, but same story of neglect." As you slowly unravel this mystery, you realize that the game needed a bit more polish in the story department This game isn't going to win any awards for it's story.
When I reached the end of my 5 hour play through, I felt like all my questions were mostly answered and any loose ends were tied. If there's a sequel at all, I hope it's completely different. Ethan may be an intriguing character, but I don't feel like there's anymore story of his left to tell. The developers however, have created a fantastic set piece and I hope in the future they utilize this. I want to know more about "the Sleeper" and the "Sickness".

 The second weak point is the gameplay. If you've played modern titles such as "Dear Esther" or "Gone Home", you've MOSTLY played this. "The Vanishing" however does have a fantastic "clue/sense" mechanic that it really drives home.
Because of your paranormal abilities, you're able to go "Sherlock" on the clues and piece together a crime scene. In a nutshell, you need to move specific objects back to how they were before the crime occurred, doing so will show the past and help you get closer to the bottom of the mystery.

The other issue I had was the invisible walls that most definitely break ANY immersion; but I also understand why they're in place. The game has a beautiful, well realized open world that takes place in a huge valley. Instinctively you want to go and explore every nook and cranny possible,
but you can't even walk in the lake. For a game that's all about taking your own path to accomplish a goal, your experience feels way too linear. This game is no Elder Scrolls, but it doesn't set out to be which gives it this unique charm.
There's at least one "stealth" section; this also contained a jumpscare. After awhile, I got annoyed by the ONLY enemy in this game. As I said before, there is no combat to speak of.

TL;DR You walk/run a lot and discover important clues. Oh and you click things.

Visuals: Okay lets get this out of the way right now; Ethan Carter is a GLORIOUS visual experience. The super high resolution textures and the phenomenal environments you traverse through, are pure eye candy. It's no "Crysis" or ENB mod, but it's DAMN impressive. And it runs well with even the highest of settings. I was running this on 8xCSAA and Ultra settings at 1080p with minimal framerate dips.
The only issue I have with this game is the characters themselves. They don't look impressive and feel almost "cartoony". For such a beautiful game, I don't feel very connected to the people as I do the world.
I will say, by the end of your playthrough, if you're not sick of forests and grass; YOU WILL BE! Think of Skyrim with 10 grass mods and that's this game's landscape.

Audio: I was scared playing this. I was disturbed and I was in love with the ambiance. The small auditory cues that chimed every-time you went to a new area, or when you're trying to escape the "big bad".
The great use of music to convey emotion and the mostly excellent voice work. The moment I hit "new game" I knew I was in for an auditory treat. There is no question that this game does audio right.
In fact audio is the game's second biggest positive.

Enjoyment Factor: Since this is a game and there's still the debate of games being art; vice versa, I can say that this is more mental stimulation, than mindless ham-fest. The game gets boring at times, but right when you're about to quit, it throws something inquisitive in your face.
I highly suggest playing the game with the lights off and headphones on to really get immersed in the experience. I feel this will make or break your level of enjoyment. Oh and if you so choose you can play with a controller, but I loved my mouse and keyboard usage.

Overall Opinion and Conclusion: I'm very conflicted with this title, on one hand I want to know more about the universe, but on the other I'm satisfied with my experience and don't feel I need to replay it again.

I also took the completionist route and found everything I could. My game crashed two times and I lost a few minutes worth of progress. I also was stuck in the SAME area for WAY too long; the area with the only enemy. I enjoyed that the game refused to hold my hands, and required me to learn the rules through experimentation, but by the time I finished I was exhausted and was very excited to be finished.

This doesn't make the game bad at all. In fact, I'm glad I played through it, if not to just see what my PC is truly capable of. Red Creek Valley is a place I loved exploring and now that my journey has it's closure, I'm content with my experience.

If you understand what you're getting into, I think you'll reach the same conclusion I did, by the end of your playthrough. For what this game lacks in replayabilty, it more than makes up in that one time wonder.

It may be a one trick pony, but it's an excellent one and I'm excited to see what comes out "The Astronauts" office space next.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How Microsoft Got It All Wrong

So after the recent debacle with Microsoft and their Xbox One platform, I have decided to stay FAR away from the next generation of consoles. Putting hundreds and even thousands of dollars into gaming over the last decade, I've realized that it's going to be a big forward for me as I continue to build a better PC and have something that can edit much more efficiently.

The biggest problem I've had with modern gaming has been the hold corporations like GameStop have over the market and general practices of Electronic Arts. NO consumer WANTED the online pass system; it's detrimental to the entire gaming ecosystem. And yet they were pushed like heroin and we shot them up without as so much of a holler.

Now we're at the point of a primarily digital focused era and some folks just can't adapt. Why should they have to? Gaming was built on the essence of borrowing and free advertising, why take that away from the consumer just to line your pockets?

This leads to another thing; the media, parents, ESRB and the law. Here in Canada we use the ESRB just like the states, but our laws aren't entirely the same; UNLESS it's enforced by an AMERICAN company/corporation. Games like Call of Duty and Halo are primarily console focused franchises with a HUGE cult following. Call of Duty is on all platforms to reach a wider audience, while Halo is just a Microsoft/Xbox exclusive. Oh, and they're rated Mature. After each major, annual release, the majority of the public has said that Activision's "baby" has started to get stale and is no longer fun. Yet it still BLOWS sales records EVERYTIME, with more money then the last release.

So whose buying these? If the adults are getting sick and moving onto better gaming experiences, whose purchasing and promoting these titles? The simple answer is the youth, or more realistically their parents/guardian/older sibling, etc. Laws state that anyone under the age of 17 are NOT allowed to purchase a "M"/Mature rated title. But that doesn't mean kids can't get their older brother/sister or family member to purchase it for them. Often times they'll actually walk into the store with the buyer and be beside them as they purchase it.

In the liquor and tobacco world we call that "bootlegging" and it's a criminal offense. So why is this allowed to happen then? Because laws aren't as regulated in the video game world and most uninformed see gaming as a harmless hobby. I can bet you that these same people have kids of their own whom they are attacked by and bullied into buying the latest Call of Duty release. Something that is often forgotten is gaming is an adult hobby because of the price and time needed to game.

While this is biased to some degree, I've seen it happen in my own life. But before I go off on a tangent, I have to say this much; why are we allowing companies to allow this to happen? The answer is simple; money. Activison know who their target demographic actually is and from a purely business standpoint, they're VERY successful in getting kids "hooked". Ethically though, they could care less as long as they have your dollars.

GameStop is the same way. In school we're told all about customer service and making the customer happy to help build a relationship with them, but then you see this happen and it makes you wonder whose running the show.

Oh and you may be thinking, well there's always Valve's Steam digital platform. While that may be true, most seem to forget that you really don't "own" your games, but rather a license or a code. Personally I adore Steam since it's a very accessible platform to purchase games on. See, Valve knows the faults there and they offer a remedy; SALES, SALES, and more SALES & discounts.

After browsing through the Xbox marketplace, I noticed something; while there may be newer released games, the older ones from a couple years ago are STILL 50-60 dollars.

So after a long while I thought about this whole digital world, online passes and DRM. I came to the conclusion that while we'll be eventually ready for a digital/online platform of gaming, it can't be forced onto us and jammed down our throats.

I understand that everyone needs to make money at the end of the day, but we can't let ourselves be taken advantage of and have our wallets ruined because we're impulsive people. It just needs more regulation and moderation from all parties. I could get on board with a console based system designed by Valve from the massive success of Steam, provided they continue to do what they've done in the last 5-6 years.

New release titles released in both digital and physical mediums at full price for the first week or two and then dropped down to a better discounted price to entice "stragglers".

That's a console world I could get into and until Sony and Microsoft offer a solution as such, I'll stick with my PC.

But I have to admit, Playstation Plus is a pretty awesome idea for building up one's library at a lower cost. Microsoft, do the same thing with Xbox Live Gold and you might be able to repair your reputation immensely.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ah a new blog and a new day. E3 sucked, plain and simple :)