"They don't have rifles in the Rough Ramblers."
I was playing Everybody Goes to the Rapture when a friend came over. He watched me patiently for about five minutes before asking whether you actually do anything: like, you know, shoot someone, or something like that. When I explained that you canít even run, he looked baffled.
You can imagine his reaction when I went on to say that itís the first PS4 game since Bloodborne that has kept me hooked from beginning to end.
The idea that a game might reduce the player to the role of a passive observer is anathema to some. Most games strive to increase our interaction with the virtual world and the prospect of one that prevents us from exerting any true influence over our surroundings can seem a little odd. Whether youíre going to enjoy these so-called Ďwalking simulatorsí is entirely dependent on whether you think youíre going to enjoy exploring a world and uncovering a story that youíre unable to impact in any way.
At this point I feel I should mention that my personal experience of the genre has been negative. The games Iíve tried have bored me with their slow pace, big empty worlds and simple puzzles. So why is Everybodyís Gone to the Rapture so different?
The mystery at the heart of the narrative is established in the opening moments of the game. You begin outside a locked observatory and head down a road into the English village of Yaughton. Itís soon evident that the inhabitants of this village are all missing. The only clues to their whereabouts are snippets of past conversations that are revealed by orbs of energy that drift around the landscape and the physical clues that have been left in homes, petrol stations, village halls, abandoned cars and wherever else you care to explore.
Everybodyís Gone to the Rapture belongs to a tradition of British post-apocalyptic fiction that explores our relationship with the natural world. There are no zombies, scorched wastelands or deadly machines, just a beautiful slice of rural England and a engrossing question that becomes deeper and more intriguing with every little revelation. Just where has everyone gone?
The mystery compels you to walk into every corner of the map because maybe thereíll be a hint: a dead bird or some strange graffiti or something that doesnít quite belong in the picture postcard setting. As you wander around the orbs take human form to reveal conversations and events in the lives of the missing villagers. You learn about their relationships, their fears and secrets. You watch them in moments of despair without being able to help or intervene. Gradually, the personal stories of the people that once lived in this environment become as interesting as the mystery itself. New characters and tensions are skillfully introduced as the game constructs a picture of the tangled lives of these troubled villagers. Itís clear that the picturesque beauty of Yaughton was superficial and that everyone who lived there had their flaws.
If it veers into melodrama at times with the emotive use of visual and aural effects to dramatise the subplots then itís rescued by the believable script and solid voice acting. Most of the cast have worked in British TV and the parralels to an episodic TV series are obvious.
Iím sure Everybodyís Gone to the Rapture isnít the first walking simulator to tell a cracking story, but it is the first set in rural 1980s England. Where previous titles have preferred cold, abstract, empty environments for their thought-provoking wonderings, this game immerses you in the quaint tranquility of the English countryside. Yaughton and its surroundings provide a wonderful environment for exploration. The village is fictional, but it could well be real, with a pub that proudly boasts of a pint for 50p, the new-build medical centre and scattered houses that conceal a wealth of arresting details such as the little ĎBitterní books in peopleís homes (modelled on Penguin Classics). Out in the valley youíll jump over fences and stroll down muddy lanes before trekking across fields waist high in grain that sways gently in the wind.
It looks stunning, as you can see in any decent screenshot. What you canít tell from a still image is how beautiful and realistic it looks in motion, as shadows move across the valley and the weather slowly changes. Half-way through the game your explorations take you to a nostalgic caravan park down on the banks of the lake with tennis courts, football pitches and a hall for the yearly amateur play. As soon as you walk through the main gates the rain starts to fall. The clouds darken as paths become muddy puddles and tents start to look soggy and pathetic. Look out across the valley from the side of the lake and you can see lightning strike the hills in the murky distance. Itís a fitting tribute to the English summer.
I didnít really expect to enjoy Everybodyís Gone to the Rapture. I thought I would find the slow pace annoying and the game boring. Instead I was drawn into the mystery and the story-telling and the detail and spectacle of the little Shropshire village that has been constructed for us. If youíre unable to look past the slow pace and lack of interactivity then youíll never warm to this game, but if you donít mind the walking then youíll reap the rewards as the narrative carefully unfolds and builds towards a climax. It doesnít require you to take an active role in anything, but Everybodyís Gone to the Rapture is far more unique, creative and engrossing than whatever version of Call of Duty is coming out this year.
Community review by JANUS2 (August 17, 2015)
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