There are about 60 new screenshots on my PlayStation 4 after completing The Chinese Room’s latest game, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Each one could be the new desktop background on my PC or slapped on a postcard and sent to my grandparents. I’m not one to dwell on graphics, but I can’t ignore the fact that [Everybody’s Gone to the] Rapture puts you in one of the most beautiful worlds I’ve ever seen and allows you to relax and take it every little detail of that world. It doesn’t beat you over the head with objectives, or even much interactivity, but where it lacks in “game-y” features, it makes up for in giving you a sense of place.
In Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, you play as an unidentified being left to explore a deserted town and figure out what happened to its inhabitants. You’ll walk from street to street, house to house, and field to field, looking for strange remnants of light that reenact the stories of the townsfolk, as well as radios and telephones that play clips of conversations. The game is about 6 hours long and finding these bits of story is really all you’ll be doing: a goal that both helps and hinders my overall feelings of the game.
It’s hard not to compare Rapture with other games that have been coined “walking simulators” like Gone Home or The Chinese Room’s previous release, Dear Esther. But the big difference between them is that Rapture expands the scope to an entire village that truly feels like the size of rural British town, with farms, a main square, forests, and even an observatory. The size of the game’s village, Shropshire, certainly looks the part — as evidenced by my obsession to photograph nearly every location I came across — but the game doesn’t give you the tools to effectively explore and really bring the town to life.
Even with a run button discovered only through looking at the game’s digital manual, I still felt like I was forced to tiptoe through Shropshire. The game’s speed is incredibly slow. I understand the developers need to make you feel invested in the world, and sprinting through the game would most certainly leave you missing story bits and missing the beautiful scenery throughout the village, but there has to be a medium that’s simply missing here. The game is so slow that I refused to turn around and go back to areas I previously explored, even though I really wanted to find as many bits of the story as I possibly could. In a way, because I moved through the world so sluggishly, I sometimes felt less like exploring the world I was in.
As I discovered more and more about the characters that used to inhabit this place, I began to feel even more desire to interact with their world. The problem is … you can’t. Whether it was being shut out by yet another locked door, a ball I couldn’t roll, or a book I couldn’t pick up, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture does a poor job of letting you interact with the environment, making it feel less like video game and more like a virtual picture book — less like a town that was once alive, and more like a fabricated structure meant for you to navigate through. I can’t explain the joy I felt when I found sheets hanging on a clothesline that I could walk through, letting them slide up and over my vision, or a single train set in one house that I could actually turn on and off. It was moments like these that let me bond with Shropshire in simple and real ways that I really wanted more of.
All of this just flies in the face of how immaculately designed the village is. It absolutely is one of the most believable and beautiful environments in any game I’ve seen. As far as being just a voyeur, I loved looking at everything in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and the draw of seeing each area of the village was just as compelling as unfolding the plot.
Whether you’re looking at Shropshire, the gorgeous visuals, the powerful soundtrack, or the lack of interactivity, I feel like everything about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is done in service of the game’s story. Though you are free to explore, like Gone Home before it, the design of the game takes you on a pretty clear path through the village that will ultimately get you to your goal. You should never be lost in Shropshire not only because there are maps littered everywhere, but because you’ll be following (if you want) an orb of light that focuses on the story of one character in the village. By following this light, you’ll come across a myriad of scenes played out by figures of light that will help you piece together their story, and ultimately what has happened to everyone. Well, maybe.
Here’s the part of Rapture that I find is the most conflicting: While it’s fairly simple to just follow each character’s orb and watch the scenes tied to them, there are dozens of optional scenes to find, as well as the radio and telephone clips I mentioned earlier. By leaving so much of the plot behind optional discoveries, some players will miss out on key information and character motivations. In my case, I know I missed a few scenes but since I refused to go back because of the walking speed, I could have missed something important. Even though I feel like I saw a majority of the game, its conclusion is still lacking. Some character arcs feel like they weren’t as fleshed out as others, and with more and more characters showing up, sometimes it gets hard to follow them all, especially considering we only get to view them as a silhouette of light. I still enjoyed the narrative of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but the joy came mostly from the characters and less from the mystery surrounding them.
That’s because every voice actor does such of fantastic job with their characters. The writing, the dialects, and the accents all feel spot on and appropriate, doing a wonderful job at bringing each scene to life despite the fact we never really see anyone. I started to understand some of these characters, both through their virtues and their flaws. While the town itself began to feel like a lifeless, constructed course for me to walk through, every time I unlocked a new piece of their story I was left believing in those people. So when I was left to explore more of the town, I was always hoping that one of these townsfolk would turn up eventually. I won’t tell you if they do.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has something. This new genre is still uncharted territory and you can see developers are working out the kinks of what works and what doesn’t. Rapture takes a bold step in creating a much larger world, with a much longer time to complete, and in some ways they’ve succeeded in making a more grand game than others in the genre despite their missteps. I always wanted to discover more of Shropshire and its citizens, but getting to those points can be a slog. And even though the main focus of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is to tell a compelling story, they don’t quite stick the landing or give every character the proper amount of time.
I’ve spent days trying to figure out how to put my thoughts about this game into words and now I’ve written nearly 1,300. Though you can’t argue that this “walking simulator” has taken a few missteps, it’s still a walk worth taking.