It’s easy to see why game developers love the end of the world. It sure simplifies a lot of things. It gives them a good reason to have all manner of beasts attack you and it explains quickly why there aren’t a bunch of people milling around that they have to take time to simulate. It takes care of the need to make lots of believable detail, and gives an easy reason as to why you might be walking into every house you see, shooting anything that moves, and taking everything of value without making you a horrifying criminal.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, however, has a different take on the idea. There are no guns, monsters, or looting. Just a simple question: Where did everybody go? And no, the title doesn’t answer the question or even begin to.
A different take on the apocalypse
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture uses the apocalypse as part of its story, but to a very different end. It ends up approaching the idea from a very different direction thanks to that. This is the brightest, cleanest end of the world we’ve yet seen.
You won’t see, for example, scrawlings on the walls, written in blood, declaring that the end is nigh, or that something needs to be shot in the head. There aren’t any real signs of a struggle. People knew something was happening, but they didn’t get much time to prepare. Mostly, things are just deserted. Car doors are left open. Doors are unlocked. Lights and radios are still on. It’s less like people left and more like they disappeared. The only obvious sign that something went wrong are the dead birds littering the streets and pathways of the small town.
That small town, too, sets Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture apart from many other end of the world offerings. The game is set, very specifically, in a small town in Shropshire, England, in 1984. The rural, idyllic setting keeps the game conveniently away from the big visual markers of the 1980s while letting it have a specific look.
We get some of the usual details of this sort of situation – some people sensed what was going on and wanted out, so there’s a suitcase here and there, but the majority shows lives interrupted, and we can see how people in this small town were living.
A story about people
And that’s what Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is really about – the people living in this village.
Rapture‘s story is told mainly through something akin to audio logs. There are radio broadcasts, ringing phones, and brilliant, glowing lights. By following the lights and initiating them by tilting the PlayStation’s SIXAXIS controller, an echo of the day’s events that led up to the apocalypse can be watched. The speaking characters appear as swirls of glowing light, pulsating as they take turns speaking. It gives the sequences an ethereal quality that makes them worth watching. They’re not overacted or modeled too closely that they look inhuman, but they’re given enough life that I felt like I was losing something by turning away.
The voice acting is similarly elegant. With so little else to go off of, bad voice acting could’ve ruined the whole thing. With bad voices, this would’ve been nothing more than a fully explodable version of all at 3D art from the late 90s and early 2000s depicting mundane places, made novel by the knowledge that someone laid all of it out using a computer before uploading it to Deviantart.
Instead, what the developer ended up with is a sad, beautiful story about the people in this town and the way their lives cross over each other. The player seems to take the place of Kate Collins, a scientist at the center of everything happening. She came to town with her significant other, a man named Stephen, who grew up there, to work at the Valis Observatory.
Through Kate’s eyes, we see the social structure of the town branch out. Women talk to each other about whether or not the flu epidemic really is a flu epidemic, while a doctor in his office a block over is quite sure it isn’t. A priest tries to make peace with his faith and the way people in the town view him. An old woman struggles with her relationship with her estranged brother. Every one of these interactions feels absolutely authentic. Every time the game’s slower pacing let me drift off, these performances pulled me back in completely.
At the top of the heap is the actress playing the main character, Kate Collins. Merle Dandridge is known otherwise for playing Alyx in Half-Life 2 and Marlene in The Last of Us, and the same intensity she brought to those characters is in full form here. She plays a scientist who knows she is onto something and is determined to follow through with it to the best of her abilities, and while the game has you learning about many characters, Kate’s story weaves through all of them, if only just through radio clips found here and there throughout.
This is all underscored by a soundtrack I can only describe as heavenly, bright, and sad.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture feels, in a way, like a Doctor Who episode that goes much more in depth than they usually have the opportunity to. We’re presented with a lightly science fiction premise in a small British village in the recent past and that premise is used to explore some elements of human nature. Any licensed Doctor Who game we end up with is going to slap together something with a bunch of Daleks and Cybermen and other craziness, but Rapture does what some of the show’s best episodes try to do while making the experience longer and more interactive.
Small town pacing
There’s no denying, though, that the pacing of the game matches the pacing of its setting. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a game that takes its time. There is no run button, only walk. This makes every action feel very deliberate. (Update: There is a run button that was undocumented and required that the player hold the R2 button for an extended period to build up speed. This doesn’t significantly change my opinion of the game, but is inaccurate in light of word from the developer.)
“I’m going to go over to that house,” I’d say. Each time, I found myself exploring every unlocked room, looking at anything that set it apart from other houses around it.
This helped bring out the individual details of many of the environments, but it’s likely going to put some players off.
There’s no challenge here, either. If you’re hoping for puzzles or anything like that, this is not the game for you. Fans of games like Gone Home, however, will find something to love here. Rapture was developed by The Chinese Room, also responsible for Dear Esther, and the lineage is easy to see. Like those games, and like the recent game Her Story, the point isn’t so much to solve the mystery as it is to explore the environment and the people that lived in it. There isn’t a quest log that will come up and tell you you’re all set. Each character’s storyline has an ending, but you’re not forced to explore the full extent of it if your exploration takes you elsewhere.
When the games of this fall start rolling out, we’re going to have plenty of opportunities to shoot, stab, and blow up everything we can get our crosshairs on. For now, exploring a sunlit village in Shropshire, England feels like a good, short diversion.
Disclaimer: We were provided a review code by the publisher for the PlayStation 4 and completed the game once before writing this review.