Release Date: 11/08/2015
Played On: PS4
Available On: PC / PS4
Time Played: 6h 58m
Progress: 100% Complete
Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
If you've yet to see the light about how wonderful narrative games can be, Everybody's Gone To The Rapture might be the one to push you over the edge. Sure it's polarising for folks who need guns and action in their games, but The Chinese Room have shown that they're no slouch when it comes to an experience.
One of my favourite games in recent years has been Gone Home, as it was the first narrative game that really blew my mind. Despite being on a number of GOTY lists, Gone Home still managed to alienate a good portion of players because it was as simple as walking around, experiencing the story.
I still haven't played Dear Esther, but as one of the first contemporary version of so-called 'walking simulators' it's firmly on the list. Last year I loved Virginia, another narrative heavy experience that took the genre to a realm of surreal cinematic story telling. Let's not forget Firewatch, which may have held our hands through its story, but oozed with its own merits through excellent voice acting.
There's a pattern forming here: I really like narrative games.
It's something that's always been a bit of a guilty pleasure, because all I see online are people whining about walking simulators and how terrible they are. Clearly these are not the same people that garnish these games with awards and critical accolades, so I'm learning not to look in the wrong places.
Perhaps it's because I love to read, so a heavily narrative game presents a different way of telling a story. While books allow the reader to be taken on a journey of imagination and discovery, narrative games do the same with a different language.
Instead of words describing the environment, you can see it in front of you. Where there would be abstract prose, there might be oddities to inspect and puzzles to decipher. Virginia was a fine example of blending film story telling with a game, so Everybody's Gone To The Rapture evokes the same intrigue as a novel for me.
The game is undoubtedly beautiful and contains intricate details throughout the locations you're given to explore. The environment is an authentic recreation of an English country town, complete with caravan parks, pubs, cottages, and playgrounds to explore.
While exploring this somewhat banal setting (beautiful though it may be), flashes of light and vague scenes play out before you as tiny vignettes of the main story. Basically, everyone in the town has disappeared, leaving behind the 'echoes' of their existence. There's a real sense of fly-on-the-wall voyeurism as you invisibly overhear conversations between characters that each have their own purpose and motivations in the world.
I persisted to uncover every scene, but there are many that can be missed. In fact, like Gone Home, when you know what you're doing you can skip most of the story and head right to the final scene. Doing so does a disservice to the excellent structure and writing that should really be experienced to completely flesh out the town and its inhabitants.
Each character you encounter has another piece to the main plot, which ultimately only involves a couple of individuals. I won't spoil anything, but entering the final area after piecing together the bread crumbs of each and every resident served well to end on a crescendo of realisation and wonder.
It's a fairly ambiguous story, but there's enough meat to have a good idea about what's going on by the end. I can't stress enough how discovering every little nugget of information on offer contributes to the complex tapestry of the tale.
Everybody's Gone To The Rapture stands as a shining example of how narrative games can tell a story in a way that other mediums can't. It's for this reason that I roll my eyes whenever anyone tries to argue that these games aren't 'games'. The world would not be the same if the player were not literally in it. The disjointed narrative would seem a lot more linear if it weren't up to the player to piece information together and discover more answers to the mystery.
There's something incredibly human about this game, as it's essentially all about human interaction. You learn that some characters are having relationship issues, the priest might be having a crisis of faith, and the old busy body of the town is getting up everyone's nose.
Sometimes I would pause in an area to take in the view and soak up the sun. There's no reason to do so, but it's these aesthetic moments that allow you to reflect on the story so far. I spent some time hanging out in a thick field, contemplating a few interactions I'd witnessed. Nothing was telling me to move forward, nothing was trying to impress me with shiny explosions. It's these player-induced moments that are often unique to narrative games and push the medium beyond blockbuster entertainment.
The sophistication shown by Everybody's Gone To The Rapture has really convinced me that video games are growing up. Seeing how different games tell an original story in ways that only games can accomplish, is one of the reasons I love games in general.
There are some games that are super fun and impressive to play, but once you put them down, you're done. Then there's the ones that leave you with a feeling and a thought that you contemplate for days or weeks after you've finished the experience. The latter is no doubt where Everybody's Gone To The Rapture finds itself; I feel like a better person for having played it.
Oh, and Jessica Curry's soundtrack is as excellent as you'd expect it be. She's fast becoming one of my favourite game soundtrack people.