I’ve never played anything quite like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Devoid of traditional gameplay, it’s more of an interactive story than a game. Developers, The Chinese Room (Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs) aim to build an immersive setting and presentation to tell the story of a sleepy town, the people who live there, and the events that befall them.
To be blunt there’s not much to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. The game is simple. Simple in the way it plays and simple in its presentation. To the uninformed I would recommend not expecting chainsaw wielding zombie combat, or survival elements… or really any traditional notion of gameplay. It’s a game completely driven by story, a stage for The Chinese Room to tell a tale, with you as the sole audience member.
In Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, quite literally everybody has gone to the Rapture. Usually I would refrain from saying something like that up front, as it dives into spoiler territory…. but the game puts the entire premise in its title. Now that you’re aware where everyone went, what about you the player? Your role in this game is a lens to view and experience the people who lived here and their story during a relatively narrow window of time. The player is the unknown, ever silent, and never seen vessel you play the game through. That’s because the game isn’t about you. It’s about the town and the people who lived here. Experiencing the events and lives of NPCs might seem a tad dull, however the game does a good job of immediately yanking on your curiosity and tugging it along over the next several hours.
Capturing the player’s curiosity and giving them a cohesive and believable place to explore is what allows everything to fall into place. In order for a game to succeed on any level, it must keep you interested and immersed with its world and tale. The Chinese Room were able to accomplish that within the first few minutes by dropping you into a lush setting with no real introduction or tutorial. They simply give you the reins and let you wander.
The world has to be believable and players need to feel like they are truly in the sleepy little town of Yaughton in Shropshire, England. For the most part I would say The Chinese Room succeeded in this regard. The attention to detail is apparent. I’ve seen countless towns in video games, but I have never been in one that has felt so deliberate. Yards, fences, flowerbeds, vegetation, walkways, and objects all feel like they were contemplated before their final placement. Everywhere the game takes you feels organic which goes a long way into driving the player forward in an entirely narratively driven game.
Rapture is graphically proficient. With the lack of gameplay, enemy A.I., and rendering for characters hogging up resources, the developers could focus that effort on bringing great looking grass fields, objects, and skies straight to your eyeballs (side note, this game would be incredible on VR). The detail the development team put into the game is apparent when I recognized real flowers people actually plant… in the real world. What really pulls the graphics together was the lighting; the light and shadows cast through the leaves of trees, through windows in empty houses, and even during day/night and weather transitions. It hit that right hue at times with the story and from location to location. Every act had the right look and feel.
However, there were times in the game where the lighting wasn’t quite right, not from a design stand point but via technical issues. As seen in the slideshow below, stepping just a few feet to the side in certain spots triggered what felt like someone’s hand was on a light switch. Similar issues occurred at times throughout the game. A group of books I was looking at went from blue, to neon blue, to disappearing all together I changed the angle and distance at which I stood. Once or twice the game stuttered, but I never had any real framerate problems. Texture pop-ins can be apparent for those keeping a keen eye out. I know that sounds a bit nitpicky and these instances were relatively minor and isolated. However, this game is completely story-driven. Without gameplay, by default the presentation becomes much more important to the player’s enjoyment. These instances, snag players from the story, the world, and whatever immersion they may be experiencing. They are bigger issues here than what would be in a game focused on delivering gameplay.
Speaking of experience, the presence of being in Yaughton is sublime. It’s haunting, with a constant fleeting sense of apprehension due to the sheer emptiness of it. This is one of the things I loved most about the game. Could you imagine walking around your suburb, town, or even city without seeing or hearing anyone? The concept is fun to wonder about, but actually experiencing it would be far surpass preconceived expectations. Rapture doesn’t have to be a horror game to instill some sense of dread in players. Walking around outside, through houses or buildings give off that haunting feeling of emptiness. Despite knowing nothing is present for jump scares, there are times when you can be wary exploring a place or opening doors in an unlocked house.
The sound design helps quite a bit. The wind blowing, trees rustling, and sometimes faint voices and signs of life can be heard adding a twinge of creepy. The score is fantastic for the most part. However, at times it can feel out of place with the assumed silence that should be here. That’s not to say it’s never silent, as music is absent at times. The ambient tracks were weaved in and out well, whether it was exploring or triggering a story event that called for something more dramatic. The tracks tended to crescendo at the right moments. The tracks I felt didn’t fit consisted of the vocal tracks. They could be hit or miss with the vocals clashing with the relative emptiness of your surroundings.
With the story of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture being a focal point, I don’t want to delve too much into it for spoilers’ sake. Similar to how natural the setting feels, the story and NPCs also feel natural despite never truly being seen. Real people interacting about real-world issues, all the while experiencing their world slowly slip away from them. Everything is there; love and loss, fear, laughter, sadness, hope, and uncertainty. It’s all presented in one way or another. Small intimate moments can be just as impactful as the big events moving the plot forward. Good writing and voice-acting effectively communicate this to the player.
It can be hard at first to keep track of who is who, so I started playing with subtitles pretty early on as the names are added in. It normally wouldn’t be too difficult to tell characters apart, but based on how this game is presented it makes it difficult without subtitles. This can be especially true if you aren’t able to discern United Kingdom accents very well.
Players should figure out what is going on pretty early due to clues about the two main NPC characters (plus the title of the game, but that’s neither here nor there). The game is paced well, delving into each of the more important characters in separate areas and fleshing out relationships. The quiet conversations can be just as important and enjoyable as big reveals and events. While the ending sequence was enjoyable it does leave plenty of room for interpretation. I felt it fit thematically with the mystery behind everything; players are left to interpret the big picture as they filled in the blanks of the game’s cast. At the same time the lack of answers regarding the “rapture” so to say, left a bit to be desired. Ultimately, it comes to the individual player’s opinion. Although, I wasn’t expecting much from an answers standpoint based on how the game progressed.
A bit of a warning regarding the story. The story is not linear, you can miss a lot of story elements if you do not explore. Making some later events a bit confusing or vague since you don’t have the background. Over the course of several hours, it’s up to you how much to explore and find while putting the pieces together. You’re given a wandering light that guides you from major plot point to plot point. However, it can be a bit of a pain. It can lead you to a place, hover around then fly off in the next direction without anything happening. While this might not be such a bad thing, the traversal in the game is well… slow.
Did I mention traversal was slow? I understand why the choice was to make the player not be able to run fast, it’s about pace and tempo within their game. By slowing you down the developers are able to indirectly control the pace and preventing players from rushing and not experiencing the setting (which, as I said previously is really important due to the lack of gameplay). That being said, for a game that rewards players for exploration, it would be more enjoyable to do it quicker. The run in this game, which there is one by the way, is more like a brisk walk. The walk feels more or less the walking speed of a character in stealth mode. Oh, and you need to build up momentum to run by holding down the run button if traversal wasn’t already inconvenient. I wouldn’t have minded the slower pace, but walking/running to the end of a field, not finding anything interesting, than having to trek all the way back is a pain. There are also some buildings that are open to the outside, i.e. barns and garages that force you from a run into a walk, which was a bit frustrating as well.
There are things to interact within the game that add to the empty, surreal setting. The radios holding the voice of a science researcher, phones going off that allow you to listen to a past conversations are spaced out well. Some details like flyers and notices help flesh out what was happening in the town before the rapture. There weren’t large chunks of space with nothing to see or interact with. A bit more interaction with the environment would have been nice. I understand that there is no character model for the player, but running into a soccer ball and not having it move takes you out of the moment for a bit.
Lastly, at major events throughout the game you have to interact with the light you’ve been following around. To those reading this and hoping what I am going to say isn’t true… you do in fact have to use the PS4’s motion controls to interact with the light and trigger the event. The game doesn’t do that well of a job telling you exactly how to accomplish this feat, only to rotate the controller. That doesn’t necessarily work. The player has to find the right point at which the light grows the brightest and makes the most noise, then hold it here. So there’s some advice. Not the greatest way to have done this, maybe the touchpad would have been a better route.
With a game like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, how immersed you are into the experience, and how believable the world is plays a big role in how players enjoy the game. Without gameplay more pressure is put on the setting, presentation, and narrative. For the most part I think Rapture succeeds in with what it set out to do. There are some mishaps with the game’s technical performance, but as a whole shouldn’t affect the players experience too much. While beautiful and encouraging exploration, the slow speed of the character can make traversing through the game a hassle for some and infuriating for the impatient. The narrative is what you make of it; finding phones and radios, looking for story instances in offbeat places and so on build the characters so large events can be understood and appreciated more. However, some of those can be easily skipped over with the smaller, more intimate moments missed due to the game’s non-linearity. Overall I was satisfied with the game and the uniqueness it brings in contrast to a year filled with vast open-world world games. While not perfect, it’s still a good game I’d recommend for someone seeking a different experience. I guess now that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, why don’t you go too?