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Reviews

Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture

Andy Robertson

The Chinese Room
PlayStation 4, PC
PEGI 16+

Video-games often want to tell meaningful stories. Usually though, interactivity and entertainment fight against their ability to retain narrative substance. Everyone's Gone to the Rapture is having none of this though, it commits to retelling the events of a single night in the village of Yaughton in the mid 1980's.

Played from a first person perspective, but restricted to walking around the beautifully recreated village, surrounding hamlets and English countryside, you slowly discover that this is a world without human life.

The evidence of people is everywhere in the detritus of homes, streets and farmed fields. Abandoned cars, phone boxes, ticket stubs, caravans, breakfast dishes on kitchen tables and washing flapping in the breeze create an eerie atmosphere.

But then, unexpectedly, you find them - or their ghosts at least. Here though, there is no chain rattling or moaning. Instead you trigger short vignettes to overhear snatched moments from the lives of the people who lived here.

Glowing silhouettes pulsate as a radio-play cast deftly weaves a web of characters and events. Led from one conversation to another as you investigate further you are introduced to the community's last days.

The game is confident in its delivery and rightly so. Not only is the environment convincing in its attention to detail and cultural references, but the voice acting is as good as anything you'll encounter on Radio 4.

I found myself reaching for a notepad to keep track of who was who, what they were doing and who they were related to. There's an American scientist working at the nearby observatory. She's married to Dr Stephen Appleton a local scientist born in Yaughton. But we soon learn he's having an affair with ex fiancé long-time girlfriend Liz Graves. Liz was married to Robert by local vicar Jeremy. Liz also runs the lakeside campsite. Then there is Frank Appleton who owns Appleton Farms. His wife Mary is recently deceased and he has an estranged sister Wendy.

While insisting players literally do their own leg work by walking from place to place, the game also gently leads them with a friendly glowing orb that dances through the streets, fields and byways from one ghostly conversation to the next. A web of relationships and events slowly forms in the player's mind.

This, of course isn't alien territory for video-games, they have been co-opting the power of other media to enrich their experiences for some time. However, in hands of developer The Chinese Room the game becomes its own thing entirely.

The first thing that strikes you is the beauty and scope of what the small team has made. Give it some time though and it is the powerful wielding of that asset that most impresses. Restraint is everywhere from the sedate pace of getting around to the slowly changing skies and time of day.

Rather than impressing with grand interactive gestures, Everyone's Gone to the Rapture lets its quiet detail deliver a surprisingly emotional payload. Even the ability to run is absent, a basic video-game ability, in what seems to be an artistic decision about pacing. To get from one end of the map to the other will take a good ten minutes, so deciding where to go next is all the more important.

The game, which will take in the region of 5 hours to complete (and another 10 to find everything) intrigues in its form as much as its story. A freeze frame of a film that you can walk about in. A rolling episode of the Archers that unfolds only as you walk to the next scene. Or perhaps forum theatre that invites you to direct not only the order of conversations but also the camera and framing for each one. It's all these things.

What emerges is a story that must be discovered rather than told. We find in the mixed up minutiae of people facing disaster both the sad unravelling of lives and the lasting bonds of lust, love and companionship.

Strangely though, the bereft and confused scene is full of hope. It's apocalyptic, but at the end of each character's story we find a beautiful scene of transcendence. Blinking back into daylight of the morning after we wonder what has just happened?

It's a question both about the narrative in the game, but also what the game has just done to us, the player. There is a familiarity to the emotional landscape, but we're not used to interacting with it like this.

Everyone's Gone to the Rapture asks a lot of its players. In return it offers an experience that will stay with you long after discovering what really happened in Yaughton that night.