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Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: The Chinese Room
Release Date: Aug. 11, 2015


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PS4 Review - 'Everybody's Gone to the Rapture'

by Redmond Carolipio on Aug. 27, 2015 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is all about the story, basic exploration of a first-person world, and while friendly to casual gamers, it remains a deep and immersive game.

Jimmy Breslin, the Pulitzer-winning newsman and columnist, once told my intern class at Newsday many moons ago to "go where everyone isn't" when we were talking about finding things to write about. I wonder how much he'd like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, a somber and captivating affair that builds its entire narrative around stories found in the absence of humanity. There are no vile creatures or agents of doom to destroy; there's only a mystery, and the journey to the answers is rife with emotional touchstones that can feel tense, wondrous and spooky. You go where the people aren't, which in the case of this game, is everywhere.

It's the mid '80s, and you're a nameless, faceless wanderer placed at the outskirts of Yaughton, a village in England. If the words "everybody's gone to the rapture" weren't enough of a clue to tell you you're completely alone here, the introductory radio transmission from someone named Katherine Collins pulls you into the reality. She tells you she's the only one left following the "event," and that markers of light scattered around Yaughton will tell you all you need to know. That's the game in a nutshell: Explore the town and find out what the hell happened.

Gameplay itself is refreshingly minimal. Only the X button has any real use, allowing you to open doors, turn on ancient blocky computers or flip on radios littered throughout the town to hear messages from Collins, who seems to treat these transmissions like an audio diary. When you encounter floating beacons of light, one only needs to turn the controller right or left to trigger the secrets within.

With no enemies to fight and no people around, the game's experience depends on your immersion into its sights and sounds. The aforementioned beacons of light unfold in front of you and play out like recordings of key moments in the lives of people impacted by whatever event took place. Human-like, shimmering forms of the people speaking appear in front of you, providing a vague idea of their body language.

But it's the impeccable voicework that stopped me in my tracks and helped me paint mental images of the central characters, six in all. They range from the town priest to a nosy senior citizen to scientists at the nearby lab, all with different perspectives on what happened leading up to the town becoming an empty shell. You also learn about the life paths these people have chosen, and how they are all connected. The voicework and dialogue convey a sense of concern, terror and pain that eventually starts being felt by the player. Everyone grows increasingly confused and scared, and they cope with the coming "event" in different ways, almost all of them sad. It's the sound of people who knew the end was coming.

Conversations and floating beacons aren't the only forms of light you encounter. Throughout your exploration of Yaughton, there's a small, floating sprite of light that follows you around and beckons you to follow it. It is, to use biblical terminology, your north star of navigation, should you choose to follow it with devotion.

Whether you follow the light or not, Yaughton demands to be explored, both for story progression and incredible scenery. Exploration sometimes activates memories without the use of light beacons, and they come in the form of side conversations between less-central characters that can further illuminate the story. An example is a conversation between the town doctor and a member of his staff, who is clearly terrified of the amount of people filling up the office with an assortment of odd ailments. There's real drama and tension in the conversation, yet it doesn't feel overdone. I felt like this conversation would actually happen under these circumstances, and being able to convey that in dialogue is an art form in itself.

It enjoys a blessed union with the visual detail of the village and the surrounding area, for which words like "quaint" and "warmth" were seemingly invented. Your very first view in the game is the sun washing over the valley, bathing everything in perfect light. But there's also a sense of sobering, eerie peacefulness that weighs down the player as they open doors to empty houses, shops, a town hall and a pub with the day's specials written on chalkboards and still-lit cigars nesting in an ashtray flanked by untended bottles of lager. There's the doctor's office, chillingly empty but peppered with tissue boxes and used tissue paper, bloody and twisted from fighting nosebleeds. It's subtle visual cues like this that told me a story without actually saying anything, and built the mystery for me as I progressed through the village.

Even though I carried a sense of tense wonder throughout my playtime, I did grow slightly annoyed at the glacial pace at which I walked. Whoever I was, I was incapable of even power-walking or trotting down the road to places that appeared farther away. I understand the Ent-like speed can add to the atmosphere of the game and the spirit of exploration, but sometimes, I just wanted to re-check a place where I'd been, only to sigh as I engaged on a miniature odyssey to find out if I missed a radio or piece of light back at the church. If you're something of a haphazard explorer like me, you probably won't appreciate how the "guiding light" seems to sometimes whip by you and head back to where you just were, therefore making you wonder if you missed something. I'm sure I'm not the first person to mutter, "Where the hell are you going?" to this benevolent-looking light, and I'm not going to be the last.

What put me at peace during those moments was the spellbinding musical score, which is alternately sad, curious, holy and perfect for the game's essence. You get the sense that you're at the scene of a wondrous tragedy, and the music kept finding a way to pull me further into the experience.

Games that attempt to push past normal boundaries and focus on the joy of simply playing have to go by a different set of rules for engagement, and The Chinese Room has offered something that reminded me of Journey – I didn't know what to do then, so I simply moved, explored and found the story on my own. But while Journey fostered a connection with others, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture left me feeling completely alone as a player and desperate to find out why. The answers came slowly, and they might not be utterly satisfying at first, but that's what can happen when you go where everyone is not.

Score: 8.0/10

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