Everyone loves a good story. Even better are the great tales that are told with passion, and real verve.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, from Brighton based development studio The Chinese Room, tells many tales. Ultimately it’s the tale of two recently married scientists, doctors Stephen Appleton, and Kate Collins. It’s June 1984, and Stephen returns to his hometown, the fictional rural village of Yaughton, along with an apprehensive Kate to work for a year at Yaughton’s observatory. Their project? An astronomical pattern they have been studying, with an alignment event due to occur sometime after their arrival.
Your journey begins after this event. The once sleepy village of Yaughton is now deathly silent. As the game’s title strongly suggests, everybody’s gone. You’re left to piece together what happened from the small recordings of Dr Kate Collins dotted throughout the village, aided by a mysterious orb of light that does its best to guide you. And it’s the light that makes Rapture so very interesting.
Whether you follow the mysterious orb religiously, or stroll away to explore (which you absolutely should do), you will happen upon short scenes artfully depicted by the mysterious light. These scenes are little snippets of what occurred in the run-up to the alignment event. The genius in these scenes is how they’re portrayed. The Chinese Room brilliantly sidesteps the usual problems of bad lip-sync and plastic hair, the scourges of cinematic scenes in videogames for decades, by simply not conveying such details. It’s the conversations between the characters, superbly performed by the cast, that paint their own portraits in your mind’s eye.
Rapture also eschews the usual trappings and tropes of the first-person genre. The game is as devoid of action as Yaughton is bereft of denizens. There is little to no interaction from the player, you won’t so much as speak a word to anyone, let alone fire a weapon. You are simply an observer, and it’s absolutely wonderful. In our current era of unprecedented player agency, this reversion to simplicity is somewhat refreshing. Rapture’s graphics really help sustain the sense of wonder. Under close scrutiny some of the texture detail is lacking at times, but the simply stunning lighting model more than makes up for that small failing. Rapture is, overall, simply breathtaking to look at.
On a technical level, there are some issues. In addition to some slightly low-res textures and noticeable pop-in, the framerate could indeed be better. Rapture sometimes chugs along, which is a little disappointing considering how little actually goes on. Additionally I did have one instance of the game crashing, and also got stuck in scenery with no way out and no way to load a previous checkpoint. I had to restart the game. The checkpoint system is also a little odd, their triggering doesn’t seem to make any logical sense, and if you run into one of the issues I just mentioned, you may find yourself retreading a fair bit of old ground after a restart.
What’s particularly great however, is how Rapture seems to have captured rural Britain circa 1984. Putting aside a few minor discrepancies like the use of mobile phones (chunky or not, you’d be extremely lucky to find just one, let alone several), and a petrol station selling unleaded (didn’t come until ‘86), The Chinese Room has nailed it. Upon entering one of Yaughton’s houses, I was suddenly five years old again, as if entering a school friend’s house for the first time. No game, film, or any other media has ever evoked that kind of memory from me before. Combined with the stunning graphical style, and the complete emptiness of the village, the overall feel is relaxed yet deeply unsettling. The Chinese Room really has achieved something quite unique.
Throughout your time casually strolling through Yaughton you will get to know some wonderful and some not-so wonderful characters, witness heartwarming moments, and endure even more truly heartbreaking ones. Superbly complimenting all these moments is the stunning musical score from Jessica Curry. Honestly, and you’ll have to pardon the cliché here, but her heart-wrenchingly evocative score is Rapture’s pièce de résistance. It’s spine-tingling, and so good I’ve purchased it. In fact the overall sound design is outstanding, making great use of surround sound to set its more dramatic pieces apart from the game’s quieter moments.
Of course, all of this would be fairly meaningless if Rapture’s main story was rubbish. Thankfully, it’s mesmerisingly brilliant. The Chinese Room’s writing is sharp, weaving together what are otherwise disparate tales into one coherent whole that runs the gamut of human emotion. The game’s final chapter does almost spoil it all by bashing you over the head with the mighty hammer of exposition. But overall, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is an enthralling tale, told with aplomb, leaving just enough to interpretation to provide a satisfactory conclusion for everyone.