I already know the response this review will bolster because Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the latest in the “walking sim” genre, coming from developer The Chinese Room (Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs), and probably one of the more polarizing releases this year. You see, I’ve been quite fond of walking sims as of late – Gone Home left me smitten, the original Amnesia had me terrified, and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter enchanted me – but I just can’t seem to connect with the type of walking sim The Chinese Room creates. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is sadly no exception for me, blending together the weakest points of the genre and coupling it with a game that doesn’t respect your time, expects multiple replays to get the complicated and fascinating story, and abysmal pacing. This is counter to what the big games press has been touting, and I know this, which I usually try to avoid but these guys can’t stop singing the praises of this lackluster experiment in storytelling that I have to knowingly disagree. I guess to a certain extent you have to play the game for a while to see if it connects with you, which would be a great reason to bring back demos this generation, but as it stands you’re going to be taking a $20 gamble. If your time and/or money are of high value to you, it may be a title you can let pass by, at least for the time being until it goes on sale or potentially joins the Plus family.
The story bases around a small village in the Shropshire area of England that stands close to an observatory, which you quickly learn has something to do with the overarching plot, and from the look of things all humanity has been obliterated. Save for a handful of random items, there’s no evidence that people were wiped out per se, but clearly everyone’s gone and some of them were apparently bleeding as they went. The first thing you will see is a ball of light, which will serve as your guide through various storylines leading up to the pivotal event and allows you to see recreations of previous memories using light-based avatars. The game focuses around a handful of characters, each with incredible voice acting, but also not distinct enough for you to want the subtitles off and thus being unable to identify each person. This will be important because following the story is at best a challenge on your focus and memory, at worst requiring a spreadsheet with tons of notes and arrows. No, seriously, there is a fantastic Kotaku article that dissects it all for you and suffice to say the author had a bunch of papers that looked like someone deciphering the Rosetta Stone. It’s too bad because the story is one of the greatest draws of this game and may even be good enough to want to read or hear about, but perhaps a game was not the best vehicle for distributing said story and definitely not in the fashion that The Chinese Room chose. Some clips are from the day of the event, others are from years in the past, and many of them transcending both time periods. You aren’t told from what date or time many of these events take place, though, so as I’m going through the motions of watching the plot unfold and not knowing all of the events were from different times. Granted, it didn’t make his actions any valuable, but it was a misinterpretation on my part that I had no idea was wrong, so what’s to stop me or set me straight if I take incorrect meanings and thus struggle to understand the game? Nothing, and that’s exactly what happened. I typically don’t struggle with video game plots, but this is an abstract of an abstract and at a certain point you get lost in that endless void of art being too over-complicated for its own good and then the elitism creeps in. I don’t find value in items that a majority of its audience cannot get and honestly Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture loses none of its meaning or significance if you are given a bit more guidance or clearer storytelling. As I said before, this begins to waste one of the game’s biggest selling points.
You may not have started this review immediately because I have included screenshots, which demonstrates the graphical powerhouse that The Chinese Room has with CryEngine. I don’t need to tell you that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture shines brightly on the PS4, showing off some of the most impressive graphics to date and had me truly believing that I was lost in this small English town. At its full 1080p resolution, complete with surround sound, you will feel like you are right there and the lack of any humans to render means that the uncanny valley was, for me, absent. Lighting does as it should and looks natural, each blade of grass seems to sweep with the breeze that I hear out of my side speakers, particles of light dance playfully as I traverse the countryside, and taking in rural England was enchanting. I can’t say enough good things about the dazzling visuals and clearly The Chinese Room felt the same way thanks to some pacing decisions they made, but I will get to that later. From start to finish you will find this game captures the real world so vividly that in demos and screen shots we may be using it as the litmus for graphical fidelity on the Playstation 4. Thankfully I found the performance of the game holds up as well, despite Digital Foundry having many instances where framerate drops and hiccups were a problem, I noticed no judder and couldn’t really tell when the frames dipped below 30 but the pacing may be the savior there too. I also spent some of my time playing this title on my Vita thanks to remote play, and of all games this one is quite compatible with even the shakiest of connections. If you get disconnected, no biggie, your character will sit still and wait for you to come back. While the Vita cannot capture the PS4’s powerhouse graphics, it does a modest job of transitioning that to the smaller screen and my first generation OLED Vita was catching the eye of several non-gamers in the break room for sure. The same can be said for the voice acting, which is top notch, and I’d love to get these actors together for a radio play. Seriously, voice acting of this caliber is rare in a game and especially with actors that don’t have a whole lot of visual direction, so they have to create the picture for you much like radio plays of the 30s and 40s. It’s just too bad that these fantastic visuals and excellent sound design are wasted on a game and town that, much like the citizens in the story, are a husk of a game.
Almost everyone is no doubt complaining about the pace you move in the game. It’s a slow walking pace, but not one that has you checking your watch or phone on a consistent basis if you care about the world you are in. A “secret” (ie: the game doesn’t tell you about it) to moving faster is if you hold down on R2 for more than seven seconds at which point your pace picks up by about a third, but these are all estimates in what ultimately means you don’t move fast. I know the intent was probably to have you keenly observing your surroundings and taking it all in, but this village is massive and it takes you a good five to seven hours to traverse the whole thing with or without a faster walk button. In that time you will probably miss a plot point or two – I know I did both by the trophy not popping and the fact that the Kotaku article above mentioned an important event I was completely unaware of – especially because the glowing ball of light just takes you to an area and doesn’t really care if you see everything. I was not in any hurry to get through the game and knew I didn’t want to play it again, even before getting bored, so I tried to be as thorough as possible but alas it was not to be. That’s a problem from the basic standpoint of the game design because ideally you want a player to take in the content you have for them and hopefully the developer doesn’t want to be restrictive about finding it. If you don’t like open areas with no clear place to go then you are going to have many problems with Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, not to mention the rare bug where events don’t trigger. There are many trophies in the game that talk of a myriad of activities and situations, but I was having major trouble getting any of them to pop. Being the reviewer I am I refused to consult guides until completing the game only to find out that regardless of what the trophy is actually saying, it really wants you to “sit around and wait,” which should be the directions for almost every trophy. If it says something about not answering a call, it means you should walk up to the phone, put the controller down, and wait the 3-5 minutes until the trophy happens. Also don’t toggle switches, look around, or even press a button during this time because shockingly that seems to reset the counter even if the instructions are “play with the train set.” These trophy requirements best sum up this title’s other massive problem: it doesn’t respect your time. You can’t save whenever you want to, you have to wait for the auto-save to trigger after a specific event of the developer’s choosing, not when you want to quit. To quit out of a game before seeing this is to lose all your progress without so much as a warning. When do these auto-saves trigger? Sometimes after a specific event, sometimes after you cross an imaginary line, and sometimes not for what seemed like an hour because the game somehow knew I was running late for a dinner date. The same is true for the need to replay the game multiple times to gather the story or get plot points you missed, although you won’t be told you missed them and are never given a list or way to re-watch anything. In short, you are expected to walk the multiple square miles of this village without much of a guide and flip on every radio, listen to every phone call, discover every plot point hiding in every open field, abandoned car, and upstairs bedroom without so much as a pat on the back and hope you have seen what it has to offer. How long will this take you? Who cares, clearly The Chinese Room doesn’t. That combined with the slow movement speed and pacing of the plot – oh and why not mention that all of these light memories are completely out of order – and you get one tedious, boring, and frustrating mess of an experience.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is an achievement for immersion, a term we so often misuse when describing the experience of a video game. This title will show you what it’s like to be in a Shropshire village, what it sounds like, and how odd and lonely it would be if suddenly everyone were to disappear. Unfortunately, after the initial shock of the events and taking in of the scenery, any place on the planet would get quite boring. We are social creatures, most of us go insane in isolation, so we thrive on experiences with other people. Thankfully Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is chock full of such experiences, but they are gated behind a walking pace not unlike that of a person who’s been sedated and hidden in a manner that only a five-year-old hunting Easter eggs would appreciate. That first half an hour is enchanting in regards to everything that makes this game up, but as you progress your interest and tolerance for these weaker points becomes so thin that the ending is no longer rewarding when you reach it. Here’s a game that would benefit from trimming about half of its content, it would be more effective that way. If you must know what this title is all about watch a Let’s Play for 30 minutes and read an article about the plot so that you can get the gist of what was trying to be accomplished here. As for me, The Chinese Room is now off my list of developers I care to play games from because three strikes and you’re out in my book. This team has so much artistic talent, but it desperately needs a couple of people with solid game design skills to make sure that the medium fits the art.
Final Score: 2 out of 5