It’s clear that something has gone terribly wrong in the quaint British village of Yaughton, the setting for The Chinese Room’s PlayStation 4-exclusive Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
Dead birds lie on the ground where they fell from the sky. A shopping cart lies on its side, cans of food strewn on the road, a suitcase nearby. An abandoned car’s indicator is still flashing. A bicycle lies discarded on a side road. Lit cigarettes smoulder in ash trays. Bloody pieces of cloth lie in a rail yard. You just know something terrible has happened here. Something tragic.
It’s an apocalypse story but there are no zombies, no weapons, and no combat. Just an empty village with a very real, very human drama unfolding before your eyes. Players fill the shoes of a scientist who has come to Yaughton to find out what happened.
Central to the game are the conversations between key characters in the story, stumbled upon and replayed through wispy, glowing light: An emergency meeting in a sports hall, a chat between two old friends beside a cornfield. They are key moments that reveal, piece by piece, what happened in Yaughton and how these people spent their final hours.
They’re deep conversations, too, not frivolous chats about the weather, and it’s thanks to the writing and outstanding voice acting that I found myself invested in the characters, listening to their final words. They’re touching, heart-warming and, at times, totally heart-wrenching. One woman tells another to have a drink with an old flame. Another talks of what happened to her and her family as they tried to leave the village. A man tells the priest he has lost faith.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is a slow-paced game where you’ll soak in the atmosphere by listening and exploring, rather than participating in the action. Yaughton is intricately detailed, too: Half drunk pints sit in the local pub, graffiti is scrawled on a bus stop, washing flaps in the breeze. It’s as if time suddenly stopped.
There’s very little interaction from the player, apart from pressing X to open gates and play audio files via payphones, tape recorders and transistor radios from key characters that, fragment by fragment, help paint a picture of what went wrong.
There’s no jump button, either, and up until recently, apparently no fast-walk button but it seems there is, according to The Chinese Room which has blogged since the game was released that an oversight meant it forgot to mention that holding down R2 for several seconds will actually activate the fast-walk (it’s not a sprint, though).
I realised this while I was playing as, for some reason, I was drawn to holding down the R2 button at times and thought I was walking faster but dismissed it as seeing things. It seems I was right but frankly, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture isn’t a game you want to rush.
The more I was drawn into the story, the sorrier I felt for the characters and what had unfolded. I got invested in the story. It had drawn me in. I cared about what was happening.
There’s an undeniable religious theme running throughout the game, and maybe I’m reading too much into that, and ambient sound and Jessica Curry’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack plays a huge part in creating the game’s atmosphere. Much of the time, Yaughton is eerily quiet apart from the wind, but when you near an anomaly, another event, you’ll hear faint noise which gets louder the closer you get to it.
If I had any complaints it would be that at times, I had no idea where to go next. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to play Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture but at one point I had no idea where I was supposed to go after exploring everything around me. Seriously, I had no idea where I was supposed to go at one point except just walk. And walk. And walk. I’m not saying the game needs a mini-map because it doesn’t – that would ruin the immersion – and doing more exploring revealed more conversations and recordings, but perhaps a few more obvious audio cues so you know if you’re on the right track would help (it would help avoid frustration, too). I’m currently on my second playthrough of Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture (I’m recording the gameplay footage for a Let’s Play series) and suddenly realised that somewhere near the beginning of the game I missed a vital “clue” meaning the ghostly spirits didn’t always appear for me, meaning later in the game, I had trouble knowing where to go. Blame that one on my own stupidy, not the game’s makers.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture will be dismissed by many gamers as simply a “walking simulator” and fundamentally, that’s what it is, but thanks to its touching narrative, it’s one of the most emotionally charged games I’ve played in recent memory.
The deeper I got, I could feel the emotion welling up inside as I was moved by what I was experiencing in this quaint English village where things had gone terribly wrong and while the ending left me with a few questions, the game has got me thinking about things.
Games that do that deserve to do well.