What exactly is the rapture? Don’t know? Well fear not – I am writing an Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture Review and I don’t have a clue. Also I have no idea where everybody’s gone.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is the spiritual successor to 2012’s Dear Esther, which was one of the very first “walking simulator” games that emphasise atmosphere and story above gameplay. This means you either owe Dear Esther a massive debt of gratitude, or you wish it was burned from history. Personally, I am a fan of the genre, although I have limits on how much pointless meandering I can take. I found Dear Esther interesting if a little slow. The same can be said of Rapture.
It is impossible to boot up Rapture without being immediately blown away by the graphics. This is intentional – the game begins with a hand drawn intro that blends into the games graphics. It is a cocky opening that is clearly boastful about the standard of the graphics, but fortunately the quality on show here backs things up.
You’re immediately thrown into a world that is surely unique amongst computer games – a small English countryside village. In this case it is a fictional village called Yaughton. The whole thing comes across as a close adaptation of classic British radio sitcom the Archers, which is a concept that I absolutely loved. The town is full of a typical soap opera assortment of gossips, busy bodies and idiots. Unfortunately they’ve all disappeared, leaving you to explore alone for the duration of the game, listening to ghostly re-enactments of the final days of the village. The game breaks down into five main sections, which each follow a different member of the village. Each story has its own mini arc and the final section attempts to tie up the overarching story of what has happened. This is the total experience of the game – walking around a deserted English village alone listening to audio recordings.
When I say alone, you are actually accompanied by a floating spectoral ball that will merrily bounce through the story. I have played enough games to be immediately distrustful of this orb but once I realised it was harmless I became quite fond of it. Some of my favourite memories of the game were of simple ones: exploring a house, only to look out the window and see the orb meandering across the village green.
My new best friend waiting for me whilst I admire the window handles.
The orb is supposed to act as your guide through the game, showing you where to go next to progress the story. When this idea works it is great, however at times the orb seemed to want to sit still, or bumble off and mind its own business. Supposedly the orb is a representation of the people in the story, and behaves differently depending on which segment you are in. Aside from one (spoiler-filled) change I did notice, I call bullshit on this – if you are a writer and find yourself asking “how would this character’s orb behave” I think it’s time to return to the drawing board.
The orb looking pensive. Maybe.
Rapture’s story line is initially intriguing, drawing me into the world hoping to discover what has happened. Over the course of the game I blew hot and cold on the rest of the plot. At times I found myself genuinely interested in a love triangle between several members of the village. At others I was confused about which of the cast was talking and what was meant to be happening. I also felt the structure and design could have been better refined; for example the play area for the first chapter is large and open. I explored the whole area, but I went to the place where the story concludes too soon when I hadn’t seen enough of the story to trigger that section’s ending. As such I missed the conclusion of that chapter and wandered straight into chapter two, only realising my mistake on finishing the game. A later area set in a holiday camp does a far better job of guiding the player through its story elements to that chapter’s conclusion, so much so that I can’t help but feel that this would have made a better starting area and perhaps it was swapped in development.
There is another problem that seriously affects the enjoyment of exploring Yaughton – the movement speed. This was well documented at launch, but essentially the game has a very slow walk speed. There is a run button, but it is not immediate – instead your character takes about 5 seconds to get up to full speed. According to interviews the rationale behind this was two fold: firstly too fast a run speed would allow people to trigger more than one cut scene at once and potentially break the game, and secondly the developers didn’t want people to rush through the game as it is meant to be savoured at a leisurely pace.
The large areas to explore are absolutely beautiful, but the movement speed makes it a drag. Note the Orb happily minding its own business in the background.
Now as a player the first point here is an issue for the developers and frankly is not my concern. Had the slow walk speed been addressed earlier in development then that would not have been a problem. On the second point I respect the developer’s right to make that decision but ultimately this has completely backfired. For starters the movement speed is so slow that I was apprehensive to explore new areas, in case they were empty and it was a waste of precious movement time. Also the run button is so slow to accelerate up to speed that I was constantly reticent to stop and explore so that I would never have to get back up to speed again. That’s correct, the mechanics designed to make me stop and savour made me want to rush and ignore.
This is a real shame because there is some fantastic world to explore here. The graphics are truly staggering at times and the entire world is brilliantly realised. This is helped by some great sound design. The voice acting is all of a high standard and the cast do a good job of trying to differentiate themselves from one another, even if this doesn’t always work. There are some fantastic vignettes scattered through the world. I wandered into one house to find a genuinely moving scene in which a woman describes being too frightened to go upstairs and check on her family, fearing the worse has happened.
These are in game graphics, and they are consistently gorgeous.
Sadly for such an open world it can at times feel very arbitrarily locked off. There are walls and hedges along the edge of the world which is fine, however there are also some far more arbitrary decisions. For example there are locked houses and open ones. However in every single open house the family seem to have locked three of the four upstairs doors but not the front door. It’s slightly jarring and breaks the immersion a little. Later in the game there are a few shortcuts that open up to allow the player to backtrack. I encountered a few of these on my initial run through and thought they were quite artificial boundaries, I encountered them again later in the game by which time the thought of slowly backtracking filled me with dread.
Ultimately Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is an absolutely stunning game that is dragged down by it’s own mechanics. The story is intriguing but will be too slow for many people, and whilst the game has a decent stab at trying to round up the conclusion to the game the ending is a little underwhelming.
If you’re a fan of the genre absolutely play this in the knowledge that it’s not best in class, being outranked by the likes of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, FireWatch and Gone Home. If you are not a fan of the genre this game is definitely only going to reinforce that view.
Rank at the time of writing:
2 – Not as good as Infinifactory.