In 2015 the term “Video Game”, does not do justice to what developers are now able to produce for this great time-sink of ours. But, it is the label attached to interactive entertainment and we all know what it means, so I won’t turn this into a games are art debate just yet. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is certainly interactive entertainment, but I would argue it is not a “game”. It’s more grown up, more delicate and a wonderfully thought provoking experience which I found it immensely refreshing to “play”.
The title Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture (EGTTR) sounds like a post-apocalyptic tale, and I suppose in some ways it is. But at its core are simple human stories of love, loss, family and faith. At times, it is so heart-breaking that it can feel a little close to home, which for a “video game”, is a true achievement and to that end I am very mind-full of being spoiler free in this review. So, the player is dropped into an empty British village, faced with the mystery of what happened to the occupants. They appear to have left or disappeared at short notice, leaving everything behind, even the washing on the line flapping in the wind.
It’s never made clear who or what the player actually is and even now I still can’t get my head around that, but without spoilers we will have to leave that discussion alone. During their journey through the game the player is given glimpses into touching interpersonal interactions between a small group of main characters, all set amidst the mysterious events befalling the village before the actual players arrival.
The term being bandied about for this type of game is ‘Walking Simulator’, but to my mind, that indolent genre title sells the game very short. Sure, in simple mechanical terms the players moves through the village and surrounding farmland learning about what’s happened. However, it must be said, that the games mechanics aren’t important, the underlying human story and the honesty of its portrayal is where the value is found. The only game design issue I can name, is actually mechanical anyway. The first person movement speed is slow, like real slow. But I have no doubt that was a conscious choice to force the player to absorb the details in the environment, which look stunning on the PS4. The developer did add a late patch to allow brisk walking while holding ‘R2’ trigger, so late in fact it doesn’t even feature in the tutorials or control guides.
Taking up the controls of a HUD free first person camera and the sole ‘X’ button to interact with certain items in the world, the player is lead through a series of interactive narrative beats, each involving deft storytelling. There are no score, goals or fail states, just the story. Leading players from point to point, is an ethereal light which almost has personality, but once again developer, The Chinese Room are subtle enough as to leave the lights meaning or its identity up to each persons interpretation. This ball of light is the guide to locations about the valley and then creates the images of past interactions between the main characters. The actual characters of the story only take the form of swirling embodiments of light, as opposed full character models. The clever animation and simply stunning voice acting, and I mean stunning, creates full bodied people who can’t help but be sympathised with, even though you never see their faces.
The level of graphical detail in the world gives a strong sense of place while the clever use of light guides the way forward to the next glimpse into past happenings. Outside of the story and characters the strongest feature though is the sound design. Everybodys gone, so silence plays a big part in this empty world. Small noises are a big deal. A phone ringing in the distance hints to another clue, orchestral and choral music swells as time and light speeds up or slows down. At points reality does seem to bend, but it is not jarring to be a part of.
I keep wanting to say that Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is fun, but this simple gaming term does not do it justice. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is more like a great book with subtle pacing and respect for the reader (or gamer in this case). But in return, it demands gamers invest the 5-6hrs of time to reap the rewards found in the unfolding story. I cannot recommend EGTTR enough, but players must have an open mind and pay attention, because as opposed to most “video games”, it is subtle, clever and heart felt.