Games are getting pretty good at telling stories, largely because in the last few years developers have become more and more willing to take risks in how they tell those stories.
While there's still a place for heavily directed, cinematic, Hollywood-style cutscenes, a form of storytelling that has been growing in parallel to the established forms is that of the "immersive sim" -- a type of game in which you interact with an elaborate, detailed game world as you see fit, uncovering the narrative in an organic fashion as you go. Recently, we've seen some great examples of this type of game -- The Fullbright Company's Gone Home is one, while the upcoming The Stanley Parable takes an interestingly different approach -- and there are plenty more to come.
One particularly intriguing offering on the way is The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a "weird fiction" piece composed by a team known as The Astronauts. The name of the studio may not be familiar to you, but the founders (or at least their previous work) might be: Andrew Poznanski, Adrian Chmielarz and Michael Kosieradzki originally formed the Painkiller, Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgment developer People Can Fly ten years ago, moving on more recently to form The Astronauts. Since the new studio's formation, the team has expanded to a roster of eight members -- a relatively small operation, then, which makes the impressive visuals of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter all the more noteworthy.
In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, you play as an occult detective known as Paul Prospero, who receives a letter from the titular character indicating he is in great danger. By the time Prospero arrives at Ethan's home town, Ethan has vanished in the wake of a murder -- and it might not be the last. You'll be tasked with investigating the disappearance of the boy and determining exactly what happened, but there's a twist. Prospero being an occult detective doesn't just mean he investigates supernatural phenomena -- he's also equipped with a few tricks of his own.
Prospero's supernatural gift allows him to visualize the final moments of someone who has been murdered, though the clarity of the vision is determined by how many clues he finds prior to using his gift on a corpse. Through his gift, Prospero might be able to ascertain the motivations of the murderer, or determine where might be a good idea to investigate next. The team is keen to note that there's no combat in the game and that the story is "less about pure terror and more about clammy unease."
"We believe video games are a largely untapped medium for powerful storytelling possibilities," writes Chmielarz on the game's website. "Every developer with a deep interest in the storytelling side of gaming uses different ways to let players live through a story: from interactive dramas like The Walking Dead to story-exploration games like Gone Home to online adventures like Journey. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is our own attempt to tell a multi-layered story while keeping the player completely immersed and constantly engaged -- with the unique sense of presence only video games can offer."
Bold claims indeed. While there's no set release date as yet, Chmielarz claims that the game is in "full production" and that we'll see it in "months, not years" for both PC and -- if all goes according to plan -- next-gen platforms too. In the meantime, you can follow development progress via the official site. There's also a prequel comic to the upcoming game here.