Coming hot off of just finishing the PS4 version of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, The Chinese Room’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture seemed to me like the perfect follow-up game. Exploring and unraveling a mystery that has left a small English town utterly deserted? The premise was one I immediately jumped on, and I was eager for a good tale and an engaging world to explore. Unfortunately, an interesting premise and a nice world are about where my praises for the game end.
I’d like to first state that I typically scoff at the people who criticize or even mock the legitimacy of games like Gone Home and The Stanley Parable. Along with friend-writer Corey, I’ve always championed games that have an emphasis on telling their narrative in unique ways that take advantage of the video game form. However, after my time with EGR, I can’t help but feel that this may be one story-driven game that I can’t defend and it seems I’ve found my limit on the narrative to gameplay ratio. It’s my stance that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is how not to do a story-based, artistic-driven game.
As stated, the premise of EGR is intriguing and helps propel the game in its initial hours. Taking place in the English village of Shropshire in what seems to be a post-apocalypse, players will slowly piece together the nature of the disappearance of the residents and witness the townsfolks’ reactions as their neighbours begin suddenly vanishing. The story is played out as the player discovers areas that host short scenes from the pre-rapture happenings, now played out by glowing apparitions. Alongside these scenes are a number of radio and phone messages scattered about that can be overheard to shed more light on the mystery.
And that’s effectively the game. Players will search the town for scenes and messages to play out, following the lives of a number of different characters across a handful of areas in Shropshire. Before I get to my criticisms, I’d at least like to support the game’s strengths. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a beautiful game with amazing presentation. The atmosphere and aesthetic of Shropshire is a delight, and as I walked along its quaint pubs and lush cornfields, it strangely left me with a feeling of nostalgia for a place and time I’d never even been a part of. The music is a huge contributor to the empathetic feeling you’ll have as you wander through brooks or gaze up at the stars, and it’s these solitary, calm moments that will leave a lasting impression on me. The actual story scenes themselves are acted well and feature a number of touching and truly human moments. It’s sadly these factors that make me wish they were part of a better structured game and leave me all the more disappointed in the end result.
As EGR’s entirety of its gameplay hinges on exploring the town for new story moments, I’m baffled that the game actually seems to be fighting against this exploration. The walking speed, perhaps the most crucial element of the game for what it’s trying to be, is so mind-numbingly slow, it makes what I assume was supposed to be a leisurely, tempered experience incredibly frustrating. Traversing Shropshire often feels like a chore, and the incredibly slow pace made me internally debate whether it was worth my time to backtrack or more thoroughly explore areas constantly. Even the “sprint” button, which annoyingly has to be held down the entire time, doesn’t alleviate this problem and merely makes the moments when you are forced to slow-walk again even more unbearable. I understand that some will definitely have the patience to overlook this issue if they’re truly gripped by the story, but it really just made the whole game to me feel like the kind of nightmare where you try to run as fast as you can, but never get anywhere.
And I too might have been more forgiving on this aspect if the narrative itself was truly something great that needed to be told in this fashion. But I can’t say that it did. The overall story is decent, with a number of shining moments that stand out, but it wasn’t gripping enough to support the entirety of the game. There aren’t any huge twists, nothing that made me really stop and think. It’s not bad, but it’s just not good enough to support everything else. The narrative honestly left me feeling a little unsatisfied in its conclusion, ending with a very flowery and poetic note that at that point just left me rolling my eyes after gritting my teeth in frustration to see it through to the end.
Overall, I don’t understand why this story needed to be told in this way. There were some nice, immersive set pieces when it worked, but for the most part the game and its story felt disconnected. The lack of meaningful game mechanics didn’t manage to enforce the narrative more effectively and the frustration actually frequently worked against it. For a game of this scale, I feel like there needs to be a larger level of interactivity to feel rewarding. Maybe some clues or puzzles for the player to figure out themselves, some way for the player to feel involved in this world besides opening and closing doors. Video games are an interactive medium, but EGR seems to ignore this possibility for innovation and a chance at telling a story in a meaningful and unique way, yet still treats itself as something poignant and artistic that just comes off as (and I usually hate this word) pretentious to me by its end. Maybe Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture would have resonated with me more strongly had it been shorter, but simply walking around in expansive areas for hours of game time felt very unsatisfying and quickly grew stale by its end.
I really wanted to like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but it just left me with the disappointed feeling that it could have been so much more. The presentation is truly memorable and in conjunction with more tactile gameplay and better implemented narrative would have been something truly special and important. Instead, much of the game left me feeling utterly bored and uninvolved as I trudged through its world for something to keep me awake. As it stands, EGR is an uneven, often frustrating experience that missed the mark on what could have been.