What makes a video game a game? Since the days of Pong, players have been smashing buttons to either get points, defeat enemies, save princesses, or solve puzzles. Then we started to expect developers to deliver complex, narrative storytelling with our games, but never in spite of traditional game mechanics.
Enter Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, published by Sony’s Santa Monica Studios and That Chinese Room, which only really fits the traditional description of video games because a controller is used to move a character around through a programmed virtual world; but there is no shooting, slashing, or platforming to advance levels.
That being said, Rapture may very well be one of the most engrossing narrative experiences you’ll have all year — in any given medium…
The only game that Rapture can really be compared to are the developers’ previous first-person exploration game, Dear Esther. In their latest endeavour, That Chinese Room places you in Shropshire, England in what immediately seems like the apocalypse — and that’s all the information you’re really given. It’s not initially clear who, or what, you play as but whoever you are, you’re definitely all alone.
From that point, Rapture is a complete open world. You’re free to run (sort of–but more on that later) straight down the main road to get to the game’s singular story event, or you can explore the gorgeously realized town and have a glimpse into the lives of the characters who have since left you and discover several of the stories that were unfolding just before, well, the end of the world, however it happened.
While the name of the game might seem to give away what has happened to the small town you find yourself in, it quickly becomes apparent that the answers may not be as simple as the game’s mechanics are. Rapture may take place in an empty world, but the game is full of story. Mysterious floating orbs populate the town in certain locations and tilting your controller will reveal a scene that took place there, beautifully animated by the light from the orb complete with dynamic lighting and capable voice acting.
Since the dialogue of these “memories” is most of what you’ll have to go on to piece together the mystery, That Chinese Room made sure it was well-written and emotional, while giving just enough information without going too exposition heavy. Other pieces of the world are drawn there various interactions you’ll have with radios, telephones, or other various things in all the houses and shops you can walk into and you’ll walk into many. Unfortunately, all that walking may be the game’s biggest flaw.
It may be the game’s only real mechanic besides opening doors and fiddling with radios, but it still has a lot to be desired. To say that walking in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is pretty slow, would be like saying that Superman is pretty tough. It’s a snail’s pace. However, recently a developer from That Chinese Room revealed that holding R2 for 7 seconds will build you up to a running pace– which makes it seem like that function was added VERY late in production and will probably be patched up later. For now, though, it’s a pace that works when exploring dense areas, but gets very annoying when you’re walking through some of the games more empty spaces, beautiful as they are.
Thankfully, the tone and atmosphere of Rapture draw the player out of their comfort zone and into this ominous and melancholy world. Taking in this game’s setting for the first time, and slowly unraveling what it’s world has in store for you, is very reminiscent of anyone’s first visit to Rapture in the original Bioshock. The world is immersive, awe-inspiring and haunting all at the same time and the graphics are some of the best this console generation has seen yet.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture definitely isn’t for everyone. With games as fast paced as CoD on the market, it’s undeniable that a “walking simulator” like Rapture will definitely be overlooked by many. But for anyone who is open to new experiences and wants to see how far out of the box creative game design can push the concept of interactive storytelling, Everybody’s Gone… is an experience that should not be missed.