Ev­ery­body’s Gone To The Rap­ture

PS4

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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

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