“You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.”
What will become of the world when humanity is gone? What questions will be answered before we take our final breath? In the small area of Yaughton Valley, existence as we know it has ended. All that’s left behind are remnants of civilization and nature itself. But what if we could look back and see what happened? The Chinese Room allows players to explore such a scenario in a moving tale titled Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
The game never actually reveals who or what the player is controlling throughout the story. You will explore the empty valley looking for any sign or clue as to what took place there. The experience is reminiscent of games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or Dear Esther, giving you an open area to explore with only a little guidance. It’s a little daunting at first, as games like these are typically packed with small clues, and Rapture is no exception. However, the game does lend a hand at times through the form of a glowing light orb that will whizz by, intuitively prompting you to follow it.
The scenario and locales are split up into five major segments which the game creatively transitions to through beautiful forms of lightwork. Each area focuses on a specific character’s
story, but you will likely need a pen and paper to remember everyone involved. Once you’ve witnessed a scene or heard a recording, you can never hear it again. This prompts full engagement on behalf of the player. While this is a clever design choice, the forced method of engagement can prove tiresome in other ways, such as the forced walking. Your avatar moves painfully slow, with the only speed increase being a power-walk option in the form of holding down the R2 button. The developer likely wants the player to slowly take everything in, but restricting how a player chooses to play never feels at home.
The areas are divided up into sections focused on specific characters.
Besides finding various clues and recordings, the player will be able to take in small snippets of characters’ lives. The light will materialize into the form of human shapes as you witness interactions between the residents. You will meet individuals such as the village Pastor, an out of place American in a British town, and even quarreling lovers. The humanity demonstrated by the characters will intrigue you as well pull on your heartstrings. The story doesn’t rely on formulaic figures, but rather very real and deeply flawed human beings. Trying to understand the character’s relationships is just as intriguing if not more so than discovering what actually happened to the world.
In addition to walking and interacting with objects, players will occasionally be prompted to utilize the PlayStation’s six-axis controls in order to activate certain scenes. The controls are meant to simulate fine tuning a radio frequency, but ultimately feel obtuse and unnecessary. Having the option to dial in on a joystick would have provided the same experience while being far more accurate and reliable.
Where Rapture truly shines is in its presentation, through both visuals and audio. Yaughton Valley is simply a delight to look at. The environment feels truly authentic to a small locale in Europe and always feels very lived in. The game takes place not long after the event occurred which causes you to always feel like you’re intruding. However, no matter how many homes or shops you enter, no one is ever there. The atmosphere becomes very hopeless and eerie in this regard. During my experience, I constantly saw flickers of what I thought might be a survivor, just to see a plant swaying or a light flickering in the distance. I wanted someone to find me, and the emptiness I felt effectively complemented the mood of the game.
Nearly a character in and of itself, Jessica Curry’s score for the game is breathtaking. The tracks are finely laid out, prompting heavy emotion during important character moments. You’ll often find yourself realizing you care more about a character than you thought, and I place a lot of this credit upon the memorable and piercing musical cues. The voice acting matches the quality of the score, giving real cause to believe the tragedies and interactions that took place in this village are authentic. The idea of giving characters a voice and internal thoughts while not being physically present is actually ingenious, as I was left to my own devices to plug in the material I learned so that I might imagine what the people in this area looked like.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is really more of an experience than it is a game. There is replayability in going back to see if there are any clues you might have missed, but the game already does a decent job of making sure you see what you need to see. That being said, there isn’t a tremendous amount of reason to play again after you’ve seen the story. Rather, it is a tale that prompts inquisitive thought long after the game ends as the story does not offer a definitive resolution. The game will likely become a conversation piece amongst players in trying to decipher the game’s story as well as who or what the player’s avatar actually is.
The Chinese Room create the game that they set out to make. It is a fragmented, emotional tale not only about the end of the world, but about broken people. They take great efforts to make sure that players take in every ounce of Yaughton Valley, sometimes at the expense of personal player freedom. While the lack of a definitive ending might prove frustrating for some, the team accomplishes a quality narrative through the lives of individuals that may shed more light on humanity than we thought a video game could.