“In Case Of Emergency”
It’s in the saddening portrayal of loss where The Chinese Room’s latest narrative driven venture, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, is most at home. Through various acts of carefully conveyed, distressing emotion, Rapture builds a compelling sense of place, set to a powerful atmosphere inhabited with deep, conflicted characters. Rapture relishes in giving the player just enough necessary context to connect the dots on their own terms, an experience built to implore forming one’s own conclusions and theories. This results in an endeavor just as lonely and uninterrupted as the world devoid of truth, itself. The constant change of pace and somewhat presumptuous tone, ensure Rapture is a game that won’t easily be forgotten; even if it may be for the wrong reasons.
The term “walking simulator” is an increasingly common tossed around one, used to categorize specific exploration and narrative-based games. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture certainly falls under that classification, encompassing some of the term’s stronger suits, as well as its more lackluster traits. Though Rapture isn’t necessarily about the player and their involvement, as much as it is about the cleverly written characters and intriguing mystery. When it boils down to it, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a story about people, and is at it’s strongest when telling the down-to-earth stories that make them just that. The moment in which Rapture strays from said path is where the game is most challenged, leaving plenty of room for the title’s subtle triumphs and frustrating faults to spread their wings.Rapture’s narrative finds setting in the picturesque Shropshire town of Yaughton, a quiet English village with an air of mystery drifting throughout it’s abandoned homes and sprawling farmlands. It’s a place you’d come to expect to see on a postcard, though there’s more to the small community than a few local pubs and inns that beg to be explored, namely that the entire population has up and disappeared. Raptured perhaps? Those familiar with The Chinese Room’s past work, know their game’s mechanics tend to go with a more minimalist approach. The same can be said for Rapture, as it only makes use of a select few inputs, consisting of both analog sticks, the ‘x’ button to interact and the DualShock 4’s iffy tilt functionality. As you explore the mysterious small town of Yaughton, you’ll put to use Rapture’s simple means of interactivity to uncover what happened in the village. Environmental storytelling packed with well-written interactions and strong attention to detail, allow Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture to paint one of the strongest end-of-the-world scenarios in recent memory.
There are five main areas to the game, each sporting a major plot threads of its own. All of which focus on a specific character and their link to what’s going on, as the world slowly begins to cave in on itself. Rapture’s cast comes across as a bit of an ensemble, for the connections between the bunch feel real and carry weight from the past. The best kind of character is the type one could picture existing outside of their allotted screen time, and Rapture’s front runners covey just that. A lot of this is thanks to the game handing off boundless freedom to the player from the jump. Being trusted to discover bits and pieces completely out of order to join together the events of a person’s life, culminates in a powerful payoff that respects the player’s intelligence and persistence. The unique nature of each character and their relatable intentions, lend a lot to the believability of this unexplained happening. Watching the arc of each character, from the town outsider dealing with the pressure of acceptance, to the God-fearing priest struggling to place faith in his creator, Rapture’s characters consistently ride a roller coaster of emotion that transcends the distressing events around them. For a game with no face-to-face interaction with another human, the portrayal of humanity is surprisingly alive and well.While Rapture struggles to nail the interactivity the player contributes, the captivating path in which the twisting narrative cleverly unravels makes Rapture a somewhat difficult journey to dispute. That’s not to say Rapture will grab everyone, it’s pacing often comes across as tedious and there’s very little to keep the player engaged if the story isn’t enough to suffice. Yet, those onboard for a strictly narrative driven experience will likely be delighted by the game’s well-realized world and subtle style of storytelling. Rapture excels at building tension and heightening the effect of the emotional peaks and valleys encountered along the journey. The masterful music breaks in and out, leaving a moving sense of wonder as it follows the strange swirls of light, serenading the valleys and empty country homes. During Rapture’s most dramatic scenes, the music acts as the main contributor to the emotional whirlwind, often times coming across as more moving than the story segment, itself. It’s the prolonged void between the outstanding music and gripping character interactions where Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture can begin to drag.
As much freedom as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture wants to give to the player, it only became more apparent the further I ventured into Yaughton, that The Chinese Room wasn’t fully ready to hand the experience over to the player. Rapture demonstrates the control it dangles in front of you by slowing the movement speed of the game to a painful halt. The choice was likely implemented to ensure players didn’t rush through the game and carefully took their time to soak in every detail, which completely makes sense. Though the first time backtracking becomes a necessary step to pick up all the narrative pieces, the movement system becomes a burden. Though more consequential than anything else, the sluggish pace of movement clashes with the game’s supposed goal to encourage player exploration. As the hours stacked up, the walking speed became even more of a hindrance. Rapture is full of town homes and various structures, some of which conceal important snippets of the story. Naturally, most of my time spent walking consisted of approaching houses and jimmying doors to see if they’re unlocked. Though to my disappointment, only 30-some percent of the doors opened up. The rest lead to nothing, aside from the frustrating backtracking that set me back on the correct path. This resulted in a somewhat jumbled experience as the game progressed, one in which prompted both an exhausting and rewarding payoff.Conclusion: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture’s detrimental design flaws are inescapable, but so is what it excels at. The Chinese Room prioritizes the symbolic tone and rich cast of characters over the player, but in turn are able to create an absolutely gorgeous world dying to be discovered. Rapture lives on the memorable moments of revelation and loss, using subtle cues to ultimately guide you through its narrative. Though Rapture muddles the idea of player interactivity, it maintains a mature respect that leaves the moral of the story in the hands of the player. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture left me full of bubbling emotions, though not necessarily for the reasons I’d hoped for. Regardless, if you listen close enough, Rapture has something meaningful to say.
Connect with me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts on Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Find me @BraxHaugen.