Lately I’ve been in the mood to play a so called “walking simulator”, something like Ether One, but I tried that game and found it to be an ugly and empty experience (I might revisit it again but it’s unlikely). Recently, Sony has released Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, a game by The Chinese Room that falls into this aptly named category. This is a game set within a fictitious town in Shropshire, England where a mysterious event has caused the population to utterly disappear, leaving you the player to piece together what’s happened. It’s very refreshing to have a game set in rural UK, and the type of village is instantly recognisable to anyone from Great Britain, resembling as it does the holiday destinations of our youth; camping and caravanning with parents. The regional accents are also fantastic and another gaming website described it as “The Archers Apocalypse”, which is spot on, although this might not mean anything to people outside of the UK, try googling the BBC Radio Four drama.
This reconstruction of a small English village is near-perfect and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a definite contender for a best graphics award; simply put it is *beautiful*. The screenshots in this review simply won’t do the game justice, but at least it will give you an idea of how good this videogame looks, just imagine it in motion and with dynamic lighting cast by sunsets, thunderstorms, etc. Obviously there are no people in the game, but you will run into their “ghosts”, which appear as swirling particles of light, occasionally popping and flickering into vague silhouettes of the characters as they talk and narrate the times of their disappearance. Some of the characters are integral to the unravelling of the story and they appear as more animated spheres of light, which guide you from place to place, although the game is technically an open world and you could walk straight to the end of the game if you wished (there’s even a trophy for having the audacity to do this).
The controls in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are minimalistic, with just a single button to interact with things in the game world, although much of the trophies are unlocked simply by looking and not using this button at all. The speed of the game is deliberately slow, which infuriated some reviewers, even with the inclusion of a secret “speed up” button (R2) but I never found this to be a problem. I wanted to play Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture precisely because I wanted a slow and almost meditative experience, along with an intriguing plot to discover. I wasn’t disappointed, and by the end of the game I had pieced together my own interpretation of the events within the village; leaving me gagging to play the game through again armed with the full story. The more intimate and personal stories of subsidiary characters were also very touching, although I recommend enabling subtitles to keep track of who is who. There were a few occasions where I felt a small lump in my throat.
Finally, special mention must go to the soundtrack that accompanies the excellent voice acting, the musical score is one of the best released this year and almost got to the top of the UK classical music charts (before it was pulled because it’s “just a videogame” - the snobbery)! In fact, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture gives Journey a run for its money in the beautiful musical score department, and this just compounds the majestic qualities of this fantastic videogame. The mileage you get from this experience will depend on whether you enjoy these slower and more contemplative styles of narrative-driven games, it’s certainly polarised the gaming press and I’ve seen it receive scores from the very top and bottom of the scale. Personally, I *loved* it and will certainly be playing through Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture again in the future; it’s a great example of this new and developing genre.