Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
Publisher SCE Developer The Chinese Room Format PS4 Release Out now
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture starts in a familiarly restrictive manner, funnelling you down a set path marked out by immovable barriers and impenetrable shrubs to keep you from wandering off into the tempting landscape beyond. It’s a sop to convention that feels almost like a letdown in the context of the promises made for the game, but any sense of disappointment is short-lived. Only a short while later you’ll be overwhelmed with indecision as Rapture’s world and story reveal their surprising – and entirely refreshing – indifference to your presence.
But rather than a bustling world filled with occupants who appear to be going about their own business in spite of you, Rapture’s is a disquietingly uninhabited space riddled with echoes of the past waiting to be discovered. Some of them can be found in prominent places – a doctor’s surgery, for instance – while others are tucked away in locations normally reserved for nothing more than peripheral detail.
These echoes, illustrated by sparkling golden motes that coalesce into silhouettes, depict conversations and confrontations between the former residents of Rapture’s mid-’80s Shropshire setting. In them, moments of seemingly irrelevant domesticity are contrasted with the broader tragedy of an unexplained apocalypse, forming an intricate puzzle for you to piece together – and you can do it in any order you like.
In this respect Rapture bears some similarity to Her Story and, although the The Chinese Room’s game isn’t quite as radically ungated as Sam Barlow’s crime thriller, it feels just as fresh. While Dear Esther delivered its narrative through randomised vignettes delivered at set moments along a linear path, Rapture throws open its bucolic, thoroughly British world and lets you explore at your leisure. Which events you find and the order in which you witness them changes how you experience the story and your understanding of it, and the freedom afforded to you to curate what you see is such that you can bypass entire chapters of the game, if you so choose.
But to do so would be a tragedy, as you’d limit your exposure to one of the most affecting, and effectively delivered, videogame narratives in recent memory. The overarching tale is told from the perspective of six characters, each story taking place in a different location of the fictional Yaughton valley. To discuss these people in any detail could colour your opinion of them, something we’re unwilling to do given that your relationship with the major players in this tragedy will be defined by how much of their stories you uncover. An apparently antisocial act might be leant new context in another scene – and if you miss or choose to ignore one or the other, the timbre of that individual’s actions will come across differently. What we can say is that these individuals seem from the outset to be intimately bound with the mysterious disappearance of the area’s populace, but as you connect the dots you’ll spend as much time learning about friendships, rivalries and romantic entanglements as you will the end of the world.
Some of these encounters play out when you get close enough, a snippet of conversation from nearby prompting you to spin around and follow the scene, while others require you to tilt the DualShock in order to tune in and trigger the event. In this way, key scenes are delineated from the backstory and a climactic scene that wraps up the chapter will appear if you seek out enough of the earlier moments.
Whether through snatched exchanges or fleshed-out conversations, the plot is delivered by an uncommonly talented ensemble cast that lends additional weight to an already punchy script. The combination of unsettling scenario with local accents and colloquialisms can at times make the game feel – and this is intended entirely as praise – like an episode of The Archers as guest-written by Lars von Trier. The naturalism of the performances is striking and – for UK audiences, at least – will bring the experience troublingly close to home. This is insidious horror played out in broad daylight amid pub gossip, farmyard chores and village hall meetings.
The game’s audio excellence extends to the music. Rapture’s soundtrack performs a balancing act on a par with Austin Wintory’s Journey score, swelling emotively when required but willing to embrace the dreamlike, Marie Celeste quietude of unoccupied country lanes and village greens. The main characters have their own themes, too, the lyrics for which yield further clues about their motivations and pasts. Some of the story threads are deeply upsetting, and when underscored by Rapture’s melancholy arrangements will leave all but the most stoic of players reeling.
But to experience these moments players will need to embrace Rapture’s glacial walking pace. There is a run button, but its effect is so subtle that we failed to notice it even existed in our first playthrough. In such a characterful, richly realised world we rarely wished we could move any faster, but Rapture is unlikely to convert anyone still hung up on crass “walking simulator” definitions or who couldn’t reconcile with Dear Esther’s rejection of traditional gameplay mechanics.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture’s reductive design might ensure that it sits almost as far from the accepted notion of what constitutes a videogame as its forebear, but it also frees it from many of the trappings that dilute so many of its peers’ emotional impact. And Rapture’s endeavour to match Dan Pinchbeck’s malleable storylines with real player agency, as opposed to the clashing linear path of Dear Esther, makes for a journey that feels considerably more personal and equally as unforgettable.
This is insidious horror played out in broad daylight amid pub gossip, farmyard chores and village hall meetings