In an open-world game where exploration is a major aspect of gameplay, the importance of the game’s various audio elements cannot be overstated. In such a game, the music needs to be carefully and consciously crafted to enhance the environment created by the visual aspects of the game, while the sound effects must be realistic but not distracting. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter delivers all this and more, with a high standard of voice acting performances and an atmospheric soundtrack.
The driving force throughout The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the player’s immersion in the story as it unfolds. To progress through the game, the player must piece together a series of mysterious events through clues and puzzle solving. The motivation to keep playing is greatly assisted by the high quality of the voice acting, which lends believability and dimension to the characters. Most of the voice actors are relatively low profile, such as Jake Amigo as the titular character and Marty Allen as supernatural detective Paul Prospero, both of whom deliver emotive and sincere performances. The cast also includes Hollywood actress Ashley Laurence as Missy Carter and voice acting veteran Michael Sinterniklaas as Dale Carter. Sinterniklaas has voiced many characters throughout his career, most notably that of Leonardo in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series. In Ethan Carter, he lives up to his legendary status with a strong performance supported solidly by Laurence.
The music is stirring, eerie and often filled with tension, setting the mood for keeping the player in suspense and on edge throughout the game. Mikolai Stroinski is the composer responsible for the soundtrack, and his compositions do an excellent job at enhancing the game in terms of both atmosphere and enjoyability. This music, together with the impressive voice performances and sound effects of the game, are an essential part of what makes The Vanishing of Ethan Carter so memorable and so haunting.
Dear Esther is a unique game in many ways and the audio experience of the game is no exception. From music to the voice to environmental sound, Dear Esther is close to perfect.
The game takes place on an unnamed deserted Hebridean island. The island itself is just the beginning of the mystery, which is at the heart of the game. The player traverses the landscape and gradually triggers various voiceovers of an unnamed male protagonist (voiced flawlessly by Nigel Carrington). The particular voiceover triggered at each point is selected from a relevant subset at random by the game during each playthrough. This adds yet more complexity to the density of meaning and myriad of possible conclusions the player might come to regarding the events transpiring before and during the game.
Composer Jessica Curry’s sublime orchestrations are truly a defining feature in Dear Esther. Indeed, since some music was composed at the very beginning of game development it is no stretch to say that the environment and the music are literally made for one another. The soundtrack is a mesmerising mix of heady orchestral elements that makes occasional use of the human voice as an instrument, too. The result is an atmosphere that toes the ever blurrier line between heavenly and uncanny as the game progresses.
The natural environment of the island is extremely windy and this is commonly a noticeable attribute in the game’s audio. However, rather than detracting from the experience, the sound of the aggressive wind only emphasises the emotional content of the game. Similarly, the echoes of the waterfalls and rivers found in the caves further on in the game emphasise the desolate quality of not only of the landscape, but of the very soul of our unnamed protagonist as the voiceovers become increasingly affected by his emotional, mental, and physical deterioration.
While the game’s landscape is undeniably visually stunning in its decay, it is truly the sound elements that make the experience of Dear Esther one to remember. It is these elements that portray so profoundly the strongest point of the game: its emotional impact.