Have you played... The Vanishing of Ethan Carter?
Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
Watching walking simulators evolve from the waffling emptiness of Dear Esther into remarkable narrative adventures like Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch has been one of my favourite spectator sports as a games journalist. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of the better stepping stones on this long and winding road. It has players assume the role of psychic detective Paul Prospero, who arrives in the gorgeous Red Creek Valley on the trail of a missing boy.
As with so many of these games, the environment design is stunning, a blend of verdant forests and decaying architecture slowly being reclaimed by nature. Your relaxing woodland walk is interspersed with moments of mystery and eerie pseudo-horror. Prospero is able to visualise human memories imprinted on the world, which forms one of the game's central mechanics. Meanwhile, there are multiple set stories to discover, each with a unique puzzle attached to it, such as a dilapidated house whose interior turns into a disorientating maze.
Ethan Carter is one of the few games to be inspired by Twin Peaks in a way that doesn't simply involve referencing it incessantly. It strikes that tonal balance between luxuriating in a quaint pastoral idyll, then yanking you from your reverie with something dark and inexplicable. I hated the ending, and would have preferred the developers to play their story straight rather than opting for a rather hackneyed twist, but the journey itself is an enjoyable mix of relaxing walkabout and haunting storytelling.