It’s a gorgeously sunny day in the height of summer, but the homely and quintessentially British village of Yaughton stands still. The butterflies that flutter from one flower to the next and the birds calling to one another from the tops of the trees belie the fact that humankind has vanished. There’s nobody here. Not anymore.
Abandoned cars stand in the middle of the street, homes have been left with their doors ajar and a phone rings in a telephone box, but there’s no real scene of devastation. There are no bodies littering the ground or burning wrecks, there’s just an eerie stillness to the gorgeously realised little Shropshire village, but as you walk along the road there are these little flickers of change out of the corner of your eye.
Blink and you’ll miss them, but the visual aberrations become more frequent as you get closer to what they disguise; the ambient sounds of the nearby wildlife and the wonderfully haunting choral music can do little to hide the building disruptive crackle and hiss of an old analogue radio. Suddenly a golden ball of light comes into the world in front of you, hanging in the air as the radio-like noises struggle to resolve into something intelligible.
It’s here that the only real nod towards gameplay comes into effect – this is very much a game about the world that you stand in and exploring it. Tilting the DualShock 4 allows you to effectively tune the radio and narrow in on the signal, and as you do so, suddenly the ball of light and its myriad of trails take on new forms. The lazy afternoon shifts dramatically to night time and the bus shelter you were stood by is now inhabited by two vaguely humanoid forms, outlined by this light.
As the two women talk and gossip, their respective forms bloom along with their speech and giving these ultimately disembodied voices a form and presence within the world, it’s clear that this is a snapshot of a moment in time. It’s but a short scene, and as their conversation comes to a close the ball of light zooms off into the distance, drawing you a trail to follow into the heart of the village as the sun quickly climbs back into the sky and the shadows return to sprawl across the road.
While the mysterious and magical light often tries to draw you through the world, whether by leaving a trail for you to follow, by appearing off in the distance or through the visual distortions in the world which herald its presence nearby, you’re free to explore the area as you see fit. That is, after all, the point of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. You’re here to simply inhabit and be within Yaughton just as much as you are to uncover the lives of others and the events that transpired in the village’s last moments.
On the one hand there are the quaint stories of village life which wouldn’t go amiss outside of a relaxing radio play, as Steve and Wendy reunite over a couple of drinks, years after their relationship fell apart, but keep exploring and you find that the end of the world as they knew it was already on their doorstep. Quarantine notices on the front door of a house say that it’s been sealed because of an outbreak of flu, elsewhere, there’s an argument between two men, as one tries to reveal what’s really going on.
Sometimes you will have to discover and trigger a scene to play out, but at other points, a more incidental conversation will unfold without your direct action. You’re not being led to discover each and every nugget of story that is tucked away within the village, but are rather drawn into doing so of your own accord.
What’s quite fascinating is that, depending on how you move around the world you could see events unfold in a completely different order to someone else. When Jeremy bumps into Steve on the small stone bridge, Steve has clearly been a fight of some sort with Wendy, but seeing this before or after you see the two sharing a drink behind the pub puts these events in a completely different light.
While we might never see everything that happens between the two, the script and the performances from the cast of voice actors are of such impeccably high quality, that it engages your imagination to fill in the gaps and create your own fiction. You never see these people in the flesh, never learn what they look like, and yet I came away with a very real sense of who they are, even after just a handful of moments in the echoes of their presence. Though there are seismic events simmering underneath their existences, this is all coloured by the very human dramas and tensions of people simply trying to live their lives.
On every level, Everbody’s Gone to the Rapture is a delight and I simply cannot wait to experience more of the enthrallingly melancholy world that The Chinese Room have crafted.