Everybody’s Gone the Rapture Review (PlayStation 4)
"This is Dr. Katherine Collins. I don't know if anyone will ever hear this. It's all over... I'm the only one left."
Who is Dr. Katherine Collins? What's all over? Where the heck are all the people? These are but a few of the questions you'll be asking during Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, the new game from The Chinese Room, the team behind Dear Esther.
Like Dear Esther before it, whether Everybody's Gone to the Rapture qualifies as a game is up for debate. There's no combat, no puzzles, almost no way to interact with the world, and no way to lose, really. It's just you wandering through the English countryside piecing together a story— this more akin to a visual novel than what most think of as a game, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth your time.
As you might expect based on the name, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture places you in a seemingly abandoned world after some sort of disaster. Whatever happened wasn't the zombies-and-gunfire disaster, though, it was something much slower, more orderly, more insidious. Whatever the cause, the only thing left behind are the countless abandoned objects which clue you into the lives of those who are gone, and balls of light which re-enact the past by creating luminous projections of people. Through these balls of light you'll start to learn what happened while also learning a bit about the goings-on in the missing populace's lives.
Connectivity seems to be a major theme, here, with both the enrapturing disaster and people's personal melodramas all centering around the need for human beings to connect to each other. At times, these human scenes are poignant. Occasionally they're simply banal. Overall, they weave a tapestry of several important characters- Kate, the scientist, Stephen, her lover, Lizzie, Stephen's lover, and so on- and the scenes themselves are well-written and well-acted even when they're not that interesting. It's also highly recommended you turn on subtitles, as seeing exactly which glowing ball of light is which character makes it much easier to track the story from scene to scene.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture's narrative is laid out in a nonlinear fashion. As you wander through the countryside you can stumble on the story scenes in different order, and while you may miss something that someone else found (or stumble upon something they didn't), the aforementioned balls of light will always lead you towards the most important discoveries. These light balls have a duality to them; they're beautiful, but make disquieting noises as they grow close. At times, you may grow wary of them, and yet you may find yourself longing for their company when they wander away in this empty world.
Aesthetically speaking, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is a top-notch experience. The presentation of the deserted English countryside is stark and beautiful, with lighting effects that are breathtakingly spectacular, and little details scattered throughout paint a vivid portrait in a lived-in, but abandoned, world. Jessica Curry's often hymnal soundtrack swells and falls during appropriate moments, making something as simple as wandering through a garden strike powerful emotional chords.
The controls, despite their simplicity, leave a little to be desired. The default walk speed is excruciatingly slow; the only way to move more quickly is by holding down R2 for a few seconds (a maneuver the control screen neglects to mention) and even then you're still not moving very quickly. Also, while gradually piecing together the narrative is the entire experience, the writers should have, perhaps, been a little more giving about the story information. By the time the credits roll you'll have a pretty decent idea of each character's arc, but only if you're willing to hunt for it, and as to what, exactly, the cause of this mass disappearance was. Other important details, such as the fact that the entire story is set in the 1980s, also get buried so heavily that some players may not find it at all. There's being coy with your writing and being too coy with your writing, and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture teeters on the edge of that tightrope.
Most video games are built to challenge players in one way or another, while this is an experience that's crafted entirely around a narrative— no gaming skills required. For anyone looking for a more traditional gaming experience, complete with thrills, spills, and cheevos, this is most definitely not for you. However, if you're the patient sort who likes to slowly explore every nook, or who craves a gaming experience that's less exciting and more thoughtful, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture might be the light in the dark you've been looking for.
This review is based on a purchased download of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture for the PlayStation 4.