|Developed by:||The Chinese Room|
We first looked at this back in January 2017 as part of our monthly PS Plus round up, you know, when that was still a thing. (And Edd also posted his own thoughts here.) In keeping with the theme of those posts, I spent only a few minutes with it to give a first impression, finding it mildly interesting but thinking little more of it.
With a desire to maximise the value of my PS Plus subscription however, I decided to dive back into my ‘free’ games collection. Starting right back at the beginning of my sub, and with its relatively short play time attractive to a game-time limited dad of three, I decided to embark once more.
Walking. Lots and lots of walking. If Frodo and Sam ever wanted to leave the Shire and play videogames, this would be the game for them.
We start on a road in the fictional English village of Yaughton, Shropshire. Static from a seemingly malfunctioning radio draws us towards a building, but switching it on gives us not a local broadcast but instead a snippet of conversation between strangers. As we continue along the road, a ringing phone guides us and provides a another opportunity for seemingly illicit eavesdropping before we soon find ourselves in the middle of the village and for the first time the obvious thought strikes us; where are all the people? And so begins our journey.
Walking simulator. It sounds like a dig, doesn’t it? But it remains the most apt description of the experience. Really though Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a game of discovery.
Effectively you don’t really do anything. There are no puzzles to solve. There are no enemies to slay. No end of level bosses, no weapons, no upgrades. You simply walk around the village, slowly developing your understanding of what has happened to the inhabitants.
This is achieved by broadly following a set of lights that flash around you and through you, indicating the next point of interest. At certain moments, and occasionally requiring bit of player input to trigger, the light coalesces into a character or characters, a shimmery outline of the people they once were, and reenacts a conversation or scene from their life. There are five main characters that drive the narrative and push you towards the story’s end and each of these is interspersed with seemingly trivial detail, but detail that provides the backdrop to their lives and helps you form a bond with these seemingly lost souls. These snippets of conversation also help to build the tension as you begin to understand something of what has happened, a seemingly malevolent force having been unleashed on the populace, these encounters bringing the reactions of the townsfolk to life.
For a game with no actual characters, it does a tremendous job of bringing life to this uninhabited town. It starts with the scenery, this enclave of Englishness captured to perfection. From the rolling hills to the working farm, the bubbling stream to the rain-drenched holiday camp, all work to evoke a sense of vivid reality. The characters themselves, whilst effectively invisible, are superbly realised through voice over work, ably supported by some hauntingly beautiful background music. On top of that, most of the buildings can be explored and provide an exceptional layer of detail. Each home you enter feels unique and lived in. Plates sit half empty on a family dinner table, a cigarette burns down to its dying embers, the local pub offers a deal on local ales, cars sit abandoned by the side of the road. This feels like a real village, one that has fallen foul of a terrible disaster and one that you feel compelled to explore and somehow set right.
Taken in isolation, the soundbites from the villagers may initially appear almost meaningless. Indeed many of them appear to you out of order, sometimes days, weeks and months apart. But as you begin to splice these disparate strands together, a picture emerges, one that starts to make sense of the tragic tale unfolding before you. You’ll likely get lost more than once and whilst that can be irritating, there is enjoyment to had in simply wandering the countryside, taking in your surroundings before quite accidentally finding yourself back on the prescribed narrative path.
Let’s be absolutely clear though, some gamers will hate this with a passion. They’ll find it slow, boring and altogether pointless. And I get it. Things do move slowly. You walk around, occasionally pressing a button to open a door and wrestling your controller to unlock a conversation. You can squeeze the trigger button to run, but it barely speeds you up. You can’t get in any vehicles. You can’t die. You may ask yourself, what’s the point?
But that rather defeats the object. In some respects this reminds me of Journey. Like that seminal work, much of the game that unfolds around you is a mystery and your desire to solve it will depend upon your level of interest in how events play out. Despite the lack of traditional action, I found Rapture both enthralling and relaxing. Sure, the odd conversation here and there dragged on a bit and I wished I could skip them but on the whole, the narrative keeps you gripped, creating an underlying tension without ever straying into uncomfortable horror. It is slow, but deliberately so, a game that challenges you to forget what your instincts may tell you and to simply go with the flow, never outstaying its welcome across its circa 5 hour run time. Plus I never tired of telling the wife, when I nipped off for another go, that I was ‘off for a walk.’
This is what I love about PS Plus, introducing me to games like this that without my subscription, I wouldn’t have looked twice at.
A captivating, evocative stroll of gaming delight. Arguably there is little incentive to play through again once completed, although die-hards and trophy hunters may wish to track down every last conversation and enter all the properties. For the rest of us, this is a welcome break from the guns and violence of traditional gaming fare.