Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture PS4 Review
Games are so much more than just games. In recent memory, with entries from thatgamecompany and Telltale, games have more and more become an emotional outlet, a means of much needed catharsis. With their latest project, developer the Chinese Room has earned a place among the greats. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture moved me, at times, to tears, and more importantly made me think. In the face of the unexplainable what do our lives mean? Are we worth anything – even to one another? At times, I had to set the controller down and pause to reflect on what I’d seen, only for a moment though, before curiosity got the best of me and I had keep going to try and find some answers. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a piercingly profound sci-fi journey held back by technical issues and a weird mechanic or two, but overwhelmingly something worth experiencing.
A sci-fi tale at heart, sure, but Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture opts to abandon the tried and true tech-centric space empire tales that proliferate the genre and instead set their game in the idyllic English countryside of Shropshire County. Events aren’t as idyllic as the surroundings though; everyone in the game has disappeared, and you need to find out why. Much like Dear Esther (or last year’s The Vanishing of Ethan Carter) the player is tasked simply to explore. The fictional town of Yaughton, which is accessible in its entirety the minute the game starts, sprawls about quaint pubs, houses, and assorted storefronts. As you progress, Yaughton gives way to gorgeous forests and lakes and then rustic scenes of cottages and farmland. Every area is lovingly crafted; seriously, you’ll often stop to look around and gaze at a particularly engrossing tree as its leaves blow and flutter in the wind or the flyers that pepper the doorway of quarantined home. Yaughton and its surroundings feel truly lived in; picturesque beauty meets practicality in a way where the meticulously fashioned scenery never feels too perfect to be believable.
In addition to exploration, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has the player interact with various objects (computers, phones, televisions, etc.) and trails of light which illuminate scenes where people interact to push the story forward. Compelling writing and expert voice acting make the characters come alive, each having a distinct personality. The cast is fairly large, but the story is centered on six principal characters – Jeremy, Wendy, Frank, Lizzie, Stephen, and Kate – and their corresponding chapters. Characters grow and evolve from the beginning to end of each’s chapter – I went from finding Wendy largely boring to shedding tears for her, and Stephen I found to be something of a jerk initially while by the end I thought him a hero (of sorts).
Scenes might have a sequential order, but players won’t experience them that way. Instead, The Chinese Room has the player assume the role of detective, and the story unfolds in response to where you go – the player has to take pieces of information learned in different places from different people and put them together to make meaning for themselves. Until the end of the game I bounced back and forth between extraterrestrial, human, religious, and viral explanations as to what was going on. You’re not given answers immediately, and while some ideas lose traction as you progress, nothing ever feels too crazy.
Silence is important to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Well, not exactly silence, but the ambient sounds of the world – the breeze blowing, doors opening, radio static, etc. – are anchors to keep the player tethered to reality in a world where everyone has fantastically disappeared. That’s not to say music doesn’t play a role in the game; in fact, the soundtrack is perhaps one of the most memorable I’ve come across since Skyrim. At the beginning or end of a chapter, or during pivotal scenes where some crucial bit of information is revealed, climaxes are punctuated by soaring pieces of classical and choral music that last well into the afterglow. Composer Jessica Curry weaves incredible tapestries of sound that feel simultaneously of and not of this world. The sparing use of music makes the moments where it’s used feel all the more significant – the juxtaposition of contemplative silence and cinematic moments of pure grandiosity is gripping.
I loved my time with Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but there were a few hiccups in the experience. The world is exquisitely rendered by the CryEngine, yes, but visual fidelity comes at the cost of performance with occasional stuttering where the game dips below its 30FPS cap. The framerate never got so bad as to become unplayable nor was it enough to detract from the overall experience; nonetheless, it was a noticeable, reoccurring annoyance throughout my six hours with the game.
A pair of wonky mechanics is another major issue. Running can be done – upon release there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the player’s ability to speed his exploration. The game doesn’t explicitly make this clear, but holding down R2 very slowly increases your speed until you’re sprinting. Unfortunately, even when sprinting (if you can call it that) you don’t move all that fast, and while Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a game conducive to a lethargic pace, completionists and casual players alike can be frustrated by its often glacial pace. A point of minor irritation is with the motion control activation of scenes of importance. These interactions do just involve a controller twist, but figuring out exactly where and how the game wants you to move is confusing at first and makes for an unsatisfying set of initial interactions until the player gets the hang of it.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a wonderfully poignant, moving sci-fi journey. A fully realized world, excellent writing, superb voice acting, beautiful music, and a compelling, intriguing mystery are more than worth a few technical difficulties and some subpar mechanics. If you have any interest in narrative driven adventure games, you’re sure to find a new favorite here.