Shoot first, ask questions later
Steven Poole longs for a pint in Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
As someone who grew up in London and has lived in big cities ever since, I have a special relationship to the countryside. When I’m not there, it seems as though it would be delightful to be surrounded all the time by trees and grass and goats and whatnot. If I spend too long in the countryside, however, it begins to feel as though civilisation has collapsed after some apocalyptic event, and that the few remaining survivors have been driven to make their own entertainment with rakes and cattle troughs. I rapidly begin to yearn for the concrete jungle bustling with well-dressed people on their way to do something hip.
Happily, I live in an age where the virtual pastoral of videogames allows me to visit the countryside for a tolerable period of time without all the fuss of actually getting on a train and complaining about the inadequate fried breakfast at the inn. In theory, then,
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture should be my ideal digital minibreak, since not only is it one of the most stunningly naturalistic representations yet of the bucolic ideal, but it also so convincingly realises my premonition of civilizational collapse.
Like all anti-games or non-games or – I know, let’s call them ‘un-games’ – of course, Rapture functions mainly as a Rorschach test for the player’s preexisting predilections. I like exploring in games, even wandering, and there is a lot to wander around here. But my enjoyment is hobbled by the all-too-frequent invisible walls, and eventually I couldn’t forgive the fact that I was unable to clamber over a knee-high fence or climb up a couple of small rocks to get where I wanted to go. Meanwhile, the quiet uncanny pleasure of wandering around
Rapture seemed lamentably undercut by the rampant orb-nagging: those puppyish, sleeve-tugging yellow lights that are constantly shouting: “Hey! Come over here!”
Of course different players will – and should – have different experiences. Rapture is for sure a glorious locale, and in many ways a brave and creative game. The accretion of small, clever touches – flyers on noticeboards; the constantly eerie sound of those “numbers stations”, with voices reading out integers on crackling radios; an abandoned crutch outside a church; a hauntingly forlorn railway carriage tipped 45 degrees to the horizontal; a garage named after a poet – is a triumph of atmosphere-building. So I began to fantasise about a game that trusted more in those superb aspects, and had more confidence in the player’s own self-motivated curiosity, a game that would be more a detection-- interpretation exploration game rather than a promenade radio drama. Oh dear, yes, I hate and despise the long-running Radio 4 soap, The Archers, even though it is obviously very good at being what it is. Inevitably, I felt exactly the same way about the audio scenes in Rapture. (After scrawling this down in despair while playing, I discovered that
Edge’s own review also made an Archers comparison, although in that instance it was not a deal-breaker. Different strokes!)
Yes, you could say that Rapture is just an excessively signposted scavenger hunt for audio diaries. And, sure, personally I wish there had been more to do there, and a way of motivating the player to do it that wasn’t simply making them follow dancing lights. On the other hand, what a beautiful place; what an outstanding choral-and-orchestral score; and how touching it can be in its blessedly quiet moments. To discover the forest carpeted with bluebells is a moment of true aesthetic wonder. Of course, as I have long argued, getting ever closer to photorealism is not everything – I still think Hyrule Field in Ocarina Of Time induces a more intense aesthetic emotion than Rapture manages – but if this is the next generation of virtual tourism, I am excited to see where we can go next.
But let’s not confuse any of this with reality. The most recent walk I took in some actual countryside was less beautiful and more uncomfortable (it started raining; we got lost), but a lot more fun (I was with someone else rather than being the last person on Earth). Still, my equally metropolitan companion and I agreed that by far the best thing about walking in the countryside is the pint of locally brewed ale you’ll try in the next ancient inn. For that – much as I enjoyed the price nostalgia of the sign in Rapture’s pub saying “Curry and a pint £2” – videogames have yet to come up with a satisfying simulation.
I still think Hyrule Field in Ocarina Of Time induces a more intense aesthetic emotion than Rapture