I make my way down a hill, pass some abandoned cars and a few dead birds, past a few houses and into a typical British village pub. A cigarette lies smouldering in an ashtray, empty pint glasses are placed neatly across the tables, with chairs half-pulled out. As the door to the outside world swings open, thatched cottages and neatly trimmed hedgerows snap into focus. This is Yaughton, Shropshire. Only there’s nobody here. Because Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
Much like any other rural English village in the mid-80s, Yaughton is a mish-mash of winding roads, beautiful scenery, red phone boxes and floating, glowing lights that inhabit the shapes and sounds of their former residents before the apocalypse. OK, maybe that last one is more unique to this fictional hamlet, but Yaughton and the surrounding area is a beautifully crafted representation of the perfect picture on a postcard.
Except something’s missing. There are no inhabitants, except for some dead birds scattered across the roads. Some front doors are locked, with “Quarantine” posters hastily tacked to them, and there is a strange sense of dread that creeps across me as I start to meander slowly through this place and piece together what’s happened. Within a few minutes, I come across a ball of light, with the name “Jeremy” underneath it. It zips off away from me, and as I follow it, a conversation shatters the atmosphere with such aplomb that it might as well have been a gunshot. The conversation is between two glowing outlines of figures, discussing some fairly mundane stuff about their daily lives, and then they disappear, with the ball hurtling off into the near-distance.
Rapture continued to play out like this throughout the 6 hours or so that I spent with it. It’s an exploration game, where you’re encouraged to investigate every garden and room of every open building. Unfortunately, there is one thing that hinders the enjoyment of doing that, and that is the pacing of the gameplay. I know a lot has been made of it already, but the speed at which you move is absolutely glacial. Yes, you can move a bit quicker by holding down the R2 button, but it’s not instant. It’s a gradual climb up to a slow jog, which doesn’t really enhance things all that much. It is, for want of a better term (and we REALLY need one at this point), a “walking simulator”. There are points throughout the game where you simply won’t care that it’s as slow as it is, however. The Chinese Room, working with Sony Santa Monica, really have created something beautiful. This is the most I have ever used the “Share” button in one game, there are that many “Oh wow” moments. Frustratingly though, the frame rate takes a bit of a dive during some moments, particularly with some of the more particle-heavy sections when you encounter a major story beat.
On the subject of the story, it’s obviously the key element to games in this genre. Your quest, if you can call it that, is to piece together the stories of the characters involved, and determine what has led up to the event that’s decimated the population of the once-thriving village. As things unfold, there are moments of touching humanity, moments of infuriating idiocy, points where you will want to punch the people involved, and ultimately there will be moments that absolutely baffle, as the mysteries of this version of the end of the world come to light. The lighter moments of the story will be countered by an immediate return to the overwhelming sense of foreboding when you open the door back to the outside world again. This is in no small part down to the soundtrack, which is absolutely breathtaking. It sets the mood perfectly, with every important story interaction accompanied by an orchestral swell that serves to either lift or lower the mood in just the right way. If you get a chance, play this with a headset and lose yourself in it. There are so many moments where I’m glad that The Chinese Room didn’t make the easy decision to include a few jump scares, as the atmosphere is enough to creep you out, to the point where any sudden shocks would have sent me through my ceiling.
It’s definitely not without its flaws, though. As mentioned, the slow pace of the walking is exacerbated by the potential to miss important beats in the narrative. I’ve caught a couple of let’s play videos where some seemingly important story points have played out in front of me that I completely missed. The game tries to ensure this doesn’t happen by making the glowing orb backtrack and pull you in the right direction, but there were clearly points that I missed it, and didn’t really feel the compulsion to trudge back and retrace my steps. It’s a shame, but it seemed sadly inevitable given the multiple paths and cul-de-sacs that the layout of the village provides.
Until quite late on in the game, I struggled to figure out what I thought about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. An absolutely stunning piece of visual art, it’s somewhat let down by its impossibly slow pace, and the ease of which key plot points can be missed. It felt at times like I would rather have been “in the moment” of the apocalypse, experiencing the titular Rapture first hand, rather than piecing together the events after the fact. A game in which you sometimes struggle to find yourself caring about some of the people involved, but with enough atmosphere to enable life on the Moon, Rapture really is a mixed bag. If you want a change of pace from the regular “shooty bang” fodder, then it’s worth a look, even with its (very obvious) flaws.