Sometimes there are moments in games that stick in my mind, but aren’t big enough or otherwise important enough to warrant inclusion as a part of a larger discussion. Sometimes there isn’t room in a piece to include mentioning it or there is no simple way to crowbar it in while talking about the game. But they still stick in my mind and I think are somewhat worth mentioning. This is an occasional series to just that.
I covered a lot about what I did liked in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter in my PopMatters essay earlier this week. All of them were the side stories and it lead to cohesive argument to use them like that. However, there are other smaller moment I did like in the game even if they didn’t come together to make a better whole. Scott Juster covered another one of those moments in a post last year. Still there’s one more moment worthy of notice.
I admit I do like when a piece of art fucks with my head a bit. I like high concept weirdness on the merits of it being high concept weirdness. It short circuits a part of my brain that might tell me all sorts of things like “that makes no sense” or “this is terrible storytelling” or “that was just a glitch they kept it because it looked cool.” You get the idea. Don’t know which this is and frankly don’t care.
In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, after you exit the mine, you are on a lower level of the valley. The area is bisected into two by the river after it flows through the hydro-electric dam. There are two buildings. A rather long warehouse like building. Only the office is accessible and part of the next murder mystery. Also there is the side entrance to the building where the hydro-electric generators are stored. It crosses the river and has a door to the far side. The door on your side is locked from the inside.
You can get an elevator working nestled in the cliff, so you don’t have to go through the mines again and quickly get back up if you didn’t complete any of the mysteries up there. But the main focus is going to be the murder of Ethan’s father in the warehouse’s office.
You complete these mystery sections by touching or returning a certain amount of items until you have enough residual spirit energy to see what happened by touching the corpse. Then the world gets tinted blue and the world becomes a hazy. A bunch of lights will spring forth from the corpse and fly off to create a number of spots where you have to investigate. Then you have to put these spot in the order they happened. Do so correctly and you get the scene. After that a new light springs from the body and flies off for a new post death scene.
In this case after Ethan’s father’s death the light flies towards the hydro-electric generator building, through the entryway and hovers in the middle of the room. You get a scene between Ethan and his brother and the world returns to normal when it finishes. You are still standing in the middle of the hydro-electric generator building.
Should you check it out, and you will eventually have to, you’ll find the door is still locked from the inside. Pull the bolt and door will open.
How did Paul Prospero walk through a locked door during his vision? How exactly does all this spirit detective mumbo jumbo work? Who knows? Who cares? The moment is weird, a little bit creepy and an awesome mindfuck.
It was just a way to gate progress so you solve all the murders in order, but damn if it wasn’t solved with some style. It also works a neat bit of foreshadowing. It was at this point I began wondering if Paul Prospero was a real person. If you look down you wont see any feet or hand or body at all. This is an everyday video game-ism. Now it becomes a real question in my mind. All the side stories become more than weird asides, as when they end the world reasserts itself and it’s pretty clear nothing the like of which we played through actually happened.
But again, normal everyday mystical stuff we could walk into in any video game. All the other vision investigation sequences had us traveling to places we could realistically get to. Now the power, which is really just to see the past, got us through a door. The best part is the game never bring any attention to it. Paul Prosperno never gives any voice over wondering how he walked through that door or noting the door was still locked. no musical cues, no camera focusing. Just the ability to unlock the door and then open the door. You have to make the connection yourself and that fridge logic makes it all the more memorable.
So yeah it along with a few other bits and pieces were foreshadowing for an ending I still think was a cheat. But still, what a cool moment.