The Chinese Room have historically made experimental games that offer little in the way of gameplay, but focus on beautifully rendered worlds and narrative flair. Their latest title continues in that vein, as they explore the fictional lives of a small English village at the end of days. The Christian influence is evident throughout, but it accentuates the ominous tone Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture wishes to convey with astonishing grace.
Right off the bat it should be noted that your interaction in this game is, like most other The Chinese Room games, minimal. That said, this is no Dear Esther and your path isn’t as clearly defined as you wander around the houses and sights of the Shropshire village of Yaughton and the surrounding areas. As you do so, you’ll come across swirling masses of light that can be interacted with using the six-axis motion controls, and though it is finicky at first, you soon get the hang of what the game wants you to do.
Even though Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a “walking simulator”, it need not move at a snail’s pace. What doesn’t help is that at launch, the game’s control scheme in the pause menu mistakenly omits the button command to move faster – R2. Even with this knowledge, walking from place to place is an inflated task due to the speed with which you walk. Some might say that this was intentional to really let you soak in the sights, but it merely drags out the interim sections.
The Chinese Room have emphasised the non-linear progression of this narrative and while that is to be commended, the erratic behaviour of the wisps of light occasionally got me thoroughly lost. It made my experience by the end feel a little disjointed as stories would resolve long after they should have because I felt like I was misled. When a game accidentally puts the player in a situation where there’s an hour of aimless walking, it’s done something wrong.
As a game, it sadly doesn’t work, but Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture makes the case that a compelling experience goes far beyond just being a good gameplay experience. As far as premises go, this one is a bit out there initially, as an event leads to the local area becoming completely deserted. Exploring the surrounding sunny village, you see the final events of the residents of the local area, affected by some great tragedy manifest themselves through these swirls of light that play them back to you.
What makes the story so compelling is how natural it all feels. The village politics remind me of a combination of TV shows with similar settings and the real-life dramas of quaint English settlements. Yet the supernatural element, the wisps floating around in the sky, made me ask many other questions: Who am I in this world? Am I causing harm by delving deeper? Most of this went unanswered, left to my own interpretation, yet I didn’t mind the ambiguous nature of the story.
Despite the rather ominous tone and the fact that Yaughton is a fictional place, Shropshire Council should consider honouring The Chinese Room for their efforts to encourage tourism in the area. Approaching the sleepy village, I was amazed by just how on point the visual design was. Water effects are among the most convincing I’ve seen, if slightly clean for the geological area. Washing hung on the line moves in a dynamic and realistic way in the wind. It’s a shame you can’t kick footballs and the interiors of some houses share the same layout however.
Over the top of all of this is a beautifully haunting choral score, woven by The Chinese Room’s Jessica Curry. As the drama of each scene ramps up, the music becomes more intense; with the crescendos being the cherry on top of this emotional cake, before softly fading to nothingness as a scene draws to a close. It’s simply magnificent in this department, but it also acts to compliment the voice acting which manages to convey the desperation each character faces without the need to resort to motion capture and seeing a person’s face digitally recreated.
As light on gameplay as it is, Everbody’s Gone to the Rapture is as beautiful as it is thought provoking. It’s hard to find fault with its technical prowess, showcasing just how detailed interactive media can be, but on top of this we have a narrative that is disjointed yet somehow works wonderfully as it increases curiosity, and music that is poignant in all the right ways. If Dear Esther was pretentious, in my eyes, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture can only be described as enrapturing.