Video games are probably largely assumed to be brash, loud and action-packed by many who don’t play them. And this has always been slightly true, because like movies, the real crowd-pleasers are the blockbusters: the bombastic, loud and expensive games. However, there have always been smaller, more cerebral games (Grim Fandango is one example from gaming’s recent past), and Sony’s move to support independent game-makers with the PS4 has allowed hundreds (if not thousands) of “small” games to get the attention they deserve. And amongst these indie games are those quite, thoughtful gems that elevate gaming to something altogether different – Journey is probably the shining example of this.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is another of these new types of game – a thoughtful, slow and more emotional game, in which your character is limited to walking and interacting with the odd object. While this might sound boring to those gamers who want guns, guns and more guns (and some guns), the game is very good (if simple), while also showing an intelligent understanding of how best to subvert expectations about video games.
Set in the 1980s, amidst the panic of the Cold War, a village and neighbouring hamlets in Shropshire experience a cataclysmic event, in which all the people have disappeared. Your unnamed, unspeaking and essentially unimportant character needs to find out what caused it – I say needs, but really the game offers you the ability to just wander around. Developers The Chinese Room have painstakingly, and beautifully, reproduced an English village and surrounding area for the game, and you will spend the majority of the time wandering between buildings and houses, investigating to see if there’s anything to be found.
If an independent games company can make such a remarkable reproduction of a village for a “smaller” game, it makes you wonder how long it’ll be before we get complete, accurate copies of cities in video games. The dynamic weather and deserted locales, working together with a fantastic score (it’s charted with Classic FM, which is impressive for a non-blockbuster game) give the game an ethereal, sleepy atmosphere, and while the story is eerie, this is not a terrifying or frightening game. It’s actually more emotionally-pointed, as you start to discover what happened to the villagers and get invested in their lives – with six major characters’ experiences of the “rapture” bookmarking the game’s plot.
The voice acting is excellent, and it needs to be – you never see another person in the game, but they’re depicted by activating a series of mysterious glowing yellow spheres dotted around the area, which present the characters in an illuminated (but not detailed) form. As the game proceeds, you begin to understand what’s happened and why, and it’s very clever how the game shows us the mundane alongside the fantastical. Again, the glowing orbs and their passage around the area give you a rough idea of where to go next, but for all intents and purposes you can explore at your leisure (I covered the main characters, but probably missed some others because I felt the need to travel to the next destination and be amazed at the Englishness of it all).
For many gamers, this will be a pointless game to play. If you can’t bear the idea of being unable to run, or complete a game quickly, then don’t bother with this – I thought it was clever to contrast the usual way we traverse a game world by having your character dawdle. Holding down the right trigger accelerates your character to a brisk walk, which is barely noticeable, but it’s clear the intent is to force the gamer to appreciate the game world, and also to make sure they notice details they might have missed (posters warning about quarantine, graffiti at the bus stop and unfinished cigarettes at the pub, to name but a few). And I did appreciate it – you feel as if you’re actually in a Shropshire village, and it pays to just stop, look around and listen
The resolution to the story left a lot to be desired, and at times looking in every single building for another memory or radio (you hear recollections from someone directly experiencing the event) can lose its interest and become a bit of a chore. There’s also not really any replay value unless you forget the end, or if you want to find every possible memory, but then you have to be a completist for that sort of thing, and I’m not (unless it’s a LEGO game).
However, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture offered me a vastly different gaming experience that I really enjoyed, and it’s one of those games you can show to people dismissive of the medium and say, “well this offers something different”.