Some people call them walking simulators. The people in marketing prefer to call it interactive storytelling. The one thing that we can all agree on is that games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are among the most divisive in gaming. Rapture itself has review scores ranging from 100% to 25% and is on best, worst and blandest games of 2015 lists.
I have a mixed history with walking simulators myself. While I loved The Stanley Parable, I had Gone Home figured out in about a half-hour but had to walk the experience through to the end. Where will Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture fall on the walking simulator spectrum?
Let’s start with the positives. This game looks absolutely gorgeous. The Chinese Room used CryEngine 3 to power this game and the result is a very nearly photorealistic game. The game is littered with fantastic lighting effects for the story moments. Most importantly, we don’t actually have character models in the game but body-shaped clumps of lights to represent the people in the game. It’s probably one of the best examples of current-gen visuals on the market.
There is just one little downside to the visuals. The framerate can vary by quite a bit when you play. I noticed it when I was playing but I suspect that was mostly because you could see the difference between when it bogged down and when it was running perfectly smoothly. Digital Foundry’s tests showed the framerate usually floated between 30 and 40 FPS but could run between 17 and 50 FPS at its extremes. That’s when it would get really noticeable.
The audio is pretty good too. The voice acting is generally well done. As a foreigner, the voices of the Shropshire countryside do blend in a little bit at first so I needed the subtitles to know who was whom since we didn’t actually have character models talking but disembodied voices.
The score adds a nice ambience to the game but I never really felt like it added any emotion to the game. It’s obviously very pleasant sounding but it feels disconnected from the story being told. A soundtrack is supposed to be part of the storytelling but I feel like the director of the game sent the composer a book of concept art rather than a script when giving him instructions about the music. It’s casual stroll through the countryside music.
But after those positives, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture becomes nothing more than a walk through a fictional village in Shropshire County. As you’ll quickly discover, the village and surrounding valley are completely abandoned. Thanks to the title of the game, you know that the cause is a rapture event that caused everyone to disappear.
I’m not sure that you go more than a few minutes into the game before figuring out vaguely why there’s a rapture. The problem is that you never really get an explicit answer as to what happened. You can sort of figure out who did what to start the “rapture” but not who is doing the rapturing and why it’s happening. Hell, it would have been nice to know what I was or when I was in this whole rapture exploration.
Not helping matter is The Chinese Room’s own interpretation of the game. They describe Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture as the following.
This tale of how people respond in the face of grave adversity is a non-linear, open-world experience that pushes innovative interactive storytelling to the next level. Over the course of the game, the player slowly pieces together the fate of the valley from the fragmentary memories of the people who made it their home. By finding and interacting with the traces of these lost lives, the player gradually learns about the stories and relationships of the inhabitants – how they lived, and how they died. All this is accomplished through revolutionary environmental storytelling – what you see and hear in Rapture is just as important as what you do.
There is a lot wrong with that marketing blurb and I think that the most effective way to review Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is to breakdown that quote to explain what the game really is.
It is an open-world experience for the most part. Certain paths aren’t opened until a trigger event happens but those are fairly few. You’re basically given the run of the county from the start of the game. The story is told in a non-linear way as you get snippets of the story from various characters’ perspectives told chronologically inside their storyline. As you watch the scenes from one person’s life, you move onto the next as the first story concludes.
So while the chronology of the story isn’t strictly linear, you are guided on your journey by a floating ball of light. It leads you from scene to scene that either automatically triggers when you walk up or requires you to look at a smaller light hanging in the air and tilt your controller to trigger the scene. The game might be non-linear but it’s very firmly guiding you the way it wants since you likely won’t find many scenes without the guiding light.
You do get to learn about some of the characters in the valley. You follow the stories of five characters but they all revolve around one of the scientists at the local observatory, Stephen Appleton. He is the focus of the final story you follow but that’s preceded by his mother, uncle and ex-fiancée. Randomly, the first story you follow is that of the local vicar. He doesn’t fit with the remaining characters in the game.
We do learn a little bit about the relationships of some of the characters but it almost all revolves around Stephen (with the exception of the vicar). I don’t mind that he’s almost like Poochy because almost everyone’s scenes revolve around him in one way or another. The problem is that a number of supporting characters are introduced for one or two scenes which just confuses things. These new characters are dropped into scenes and it sounds like you’re supposed to care about them but I barely care about the characters that we do spend a lot of time with. They’re all terrible people who just can’t be happy with the status quo and muddle everything up for everyone around them.
So I suppose that “terribly” is that answer to how the people of the valley lived their lives. As for how they died, we don’t actually know. Okay, they all got raptured because there’s nobody left. Hence the title of the game. When you play the game, asking how they died makes sense because it’s not entirely clear. I can’t get more detailed than that without getting into spoilers, though.
The last part of the blurb that I haven’t touched on is the story. There are three key points that I want to address: Interactive storytelling, Environmental storytelling and “what you see and hear is just as important as what you do.”
I’m not sure what environmental storytelling is. Perhaps the fact that the entire village has been raptured so there’s nothing left but buildings and dead birds (which would be a spoiler if it was ever explained) is environmental storytelling but that would mean that the rapture is a surprise and it’s mentioned in the title of the game. I have no idea what “environmental storytelling” is supposed to be.
Interactive storytelling is true, I suppose. If I just stood still, the story wouldn’t be told. I don’t know what constitutes “innovative” interactive storytelling. I wouldn’t call this particularly innovative. The Stanley Parable would count as innovative because it allowed so many options for me as a player and reacted to my decisions while the overarching narrative theme held regardless of what I did. This was only interactive in so much that I had to make my character walk for the story to be told.
The final part is the whole thing about what you do being important. That’s as close to an outright lie as anything I’ve heard in gaming. The only thing that you do that matters is walking to the next scene. Maybe that’s referring to tilting your controller. That’s important too since it triggers some scenes. What you do implies that any choice or action you take impacts the story but that’s not true. If there was anything that I could do that influenced the story, I completely missed it which is a sign of terrible game design.
I didn’t come into Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture expect anything in the marketing blurb but I was still disappointed. The “game,” such as it is, just isn’t fun to “play.” There’s a lot of quotation marks in that last sentence and I hate doing that but Rapture is the closest I’ve come to questioning the definition of the game. There was nothing to this experience.
Gone Home at least had a little bit of exploration and puzzle solving to add to its story. Rapture had none of that. The biggest puzzle was figuring out where the ball of light was directing you to. As simple a concept as that is in print, in practice, that ball of light would zig-zag and double-back on you just to screw you up. Since your character walked at a glacial pace regardless of how long you held down the sprint button, it was more an annoyance than a challenge.
From a bug perspective, it’s hard to have any in a game without gameplay. However, the little ball of light that you chase around Shropshire can disappear or get stuck forcing you to restart the game from your last save unless you’re lucky enough to stumble upon the next scenes. Most of the scenes trigger by looking at a stationary ball of light and tilting your controller. That was a bit hit and miss as to whether the game liked your tilting. Tilt too much or too little or for too short a time and your scene won’t trigger. Couldn’t I have just pushed X?
After scoring Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, I suddenly feel bad about giving Gone Home a 6.5/10. I mean, it is only an above average game but it’s that score compared to this that I feel bad about. Gone Home had so much more going for it than Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Gone Home had some actual game mechanics. The closest Rapture got was tilting your controller and even that felt like it didn’t work half the time. As predictable as Gone Home’s story was, I liked it more than Rapture’s.
I don’t dislike experimental games. The problem is that you must have something to make it worth playing. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is just walking in a pretty village. Maybe it would be worth the price tag if there was anything to it.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was reviewed on PlayStation 4. As of writing, this game is a PS4 exclusive but a PC port has been rumoured. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on platform played on and whether chasing a ball of light through the English countryside is your idea of fun.