Ethan Carter I didn’t know. But he knew who I was. When the police won’t help you, and the priests don’t believe you, you call on Paul Prospero. You call on me. If you’re a kid like Ethan, you write. Plenty do. Ethan’s letter started out just like any other fan mail, but soon there were mentions of things no little boy should know about. There are places that exist that very few people can see. Ethan could have drawn a map. I hadn’t entered Red Creek Valley yet, but already I could feel its darkness reaching out for me. Finding Ethan Carter wasn’t going to be as easy as knocking on his door. I was too late for that. To find Ethan, I had to figure out what this place was trying to hide from me.
With these words I was transported into Red Creek Valley. I was Paul Prospero and I knew I was there to find a young boy – Ethan Carter.
This experience I will not forget. Both Zita and I loved this game: we played it together, from the start till the end.
The story starts with a statement from the development house “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand”. This, I confess, felt beyond smug and so, I started the game feeling like: “Yeah, sure!”.
Everything changed when I found myself walking through the tunnel for Red Creek Valley while listening to the words of Paul Prospero. In just those words, just few lines, the storyteller has been able to tell me enough to trigger my attention.
Paul Prospero, the character I was in control of, is a detective and must be very famous among people interested in supernatural phenomena. He seems to have experience in this field himself and a lot too.
We meet the other characters only through the paranormal ability of Paul to feel the experiences that happened in a given place. This allows us to see the experience directly as if it was developing in front of out eyes.
These external memories are triggered through the resolution of simple puzzles. Without spending too much time on the puzzles themselves, what is interesting is how well connected those are with the narrative and the environment that surrounds us.
The characters are very well defined. Both of us learned to hate and love them for their personal beliefs and way of treating Ethan and each other. The relationships between them were believable and the pathos was increase by the way they were filtered through the eyes of a young boy.
The story kept both me and Zita attached to the screen from the start till the end. The mystery behind the sleeper (quite Lovecraftian in inspiration) and the vanishing of Ethan left us speculating for a short but good set of evenings.
The narrative style
The way the story is narrated is stunning. Whereas, in general, stories in games are told mostly through the use of dialogue, in this case we can see most of the narrative load coming from the environment design.
Everything looks so paralysed in its global beauty that the overall impression in pretty unsettling. For a big part of the game I though I was in front of an horror game that kept pumping me without giving any resolution to my fear.
Indication of the real story behind the scenes are given through objects we find around, scrapes of stories and letters.
If there is anything I can complain about, is that the various mysteries, especially later in the game, open too much the door to speculations that will spoil the ending (or at least part of it).
The ending (contains spoilers)
Despite at a certain point I started expecting what would happen, the ending was nonetheless heartbreaking. I grew attached to the idea of finding and saving this young boy with a vivid imagination. In a way I also grew attached to the idea that something malevolent and evil was lingering in the air but, at the end, all the potential fear waiting for me resolved in an extreme sense of sadness. I really wanted his family to be so corrupted because this would have given me some relief.
Instead, we finish our story discovering how we are just another fantasy of the little boy. And yes, there is evil (if we want to call it such). This evil is in the way Ethan’s family cannot understand his dreams that is somehow a repetition of what his father experienced with his patents.
All of this left me with an empty feeling breaking my heart while I was watching the desperate attempt of those I believed to be the enemies saving the person I should have saved myself.
There surrounded by all of his fantasies and stories, Ethan dies, without being understood by his family.