Cheap Game Tuesday: ‘Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture’
This addition to the PSN store has been garnering positive reviews and has a great title, which caught our attention. It also has been billed as a ‘spiritual successor’ to the game Dear Esther, which set off warning lights. Not wanting to offend those who enjoyed Dear Esther, but that thing was deathly boring. If you’re unfamiliar with Dear Esther, Gone Home or any of the similar ‘games’, they’re a form of interactive story telling and although they are sold as games I’m dropping scare quotes around ‘game’ because they have extremely limited interactive elements and lack many of the qualifying features of being a video game.
In most cases you control a nameless, faceless character in the first person as you follow a linear path through a location while an audio voice over tells a story. I can see the potential of tying a story to a visual environment that provides context, but these have proved fairly unexciting. Gone Home had a good story told in the style of dairy entries but no-one had anything to say about it a week after release, with it’s tackling of sexual identity issues being the only really notable aspect. We didn’t finish Dear Esther, feeling little to no connection with the material. The problem is that it offers aspects of a book and a video game without the benefit of being either. You can’t relax and enjoy the story because you’re steering the character through it, and there’s none of the challenge of playing a game.
That’s putting aside that some games have successfully told fantastic stories without paring down the gameplay elements. Bastion, Bioshock Infinite and Portal all crafted stories of complexity and nuance, with discussions about them continuing years after the release of the game, while delivering some of the best gameplay on the market. Portal has a minor merchandising empire and a legion of fans with a mute protagonist and a disembodied (at first) voice. With games of this nature it doesn’t feel like these interactive stories like Dear Esther aren’t giving us something we need.
Having said all that, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture might be the title to prove to be an exception if not the changing point. It’s not clear which character the player is controlling except they have an integral role to play in events that precede the game. We’ find ourselves in a quaint little English town where a series of strange occurrences have been recorded at the observatory, leading to sickness, quarantine and disappearances. As you walk about the locale you see events play out in sparkly ghost performances and it’s up the player to make sense of it all. There’s an intriguing mystery at the root of it all, but hopefully the game doesn’t try to explaining it all as the character responses to what happens is the real driving force. The story is divided up into a number of chapters that focus on different people beginning with the town pastor responding the emergency situation and his disagreements with some of the locals.
These character driven threads are the strength of the game. Having only played through the first of five chapters we’ve already found that it successfully creates an emotive experience. The final part of the chapter is heart breaking, seeing an established strong character reach his limit. It’s even more impressive that the game does this with characters represented as sparkling golden glow balls. The voice acting is on point, which really would have been a make or break aspect of the game.
The visuals are downright stunning. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture could be a technical demo for the Playstation 4, with stunningly realistic graphics which, along with the soundtrack, adds to the haunting, provocative atmosphere that works to involve the player. As patience is required to explore all the nooks and crannies of the town to find all the story prompts it’s nice to have something stellar to look at. The world is a simple one, but pausing every now and then to appreciate the details is worth doing.
Whether or not Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is worth picking up depends on whether a story driven treasure hunt is enough to compel you through it, but if you gaming sensibilities tend towards death matches it might not be worth your time.