Loss is a simple, yet frustratingly difficult thing to grapple with. Misplacing an object is inconvenient; leaving your card at the bar is terrible, your phone falling out of your pocket sucks, and unless other humans are as benevolent and selfless as we hope them to be, we’ll never recover these things. Objects can be replaced, but with people, it’s harder. Death removes people from the circles of the world. Death means you’ll never see them again.
Losing a friendship, however, or breaking off a relationship means they will continue to exist without you. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture made me wonder which feeling is worse. At least with death comes the idea that maybe there is something bigger than you waiting on the other side.
In developer The Chinese’s Room’s latest game, you move silently through the world switching radios on and off, opening doors, and passing through ghostly environments like a ghost. A heart-wrenching story and meaningful mechanics guide you through this seemingly morose tale, and the way you’re tasked with not only consuming the mystery but also puzzling it all together is a recipe for heartache. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture left me cold and numb but with a sliver of wonder; the way the game weaves hope and hopelessness together is undoubtedly its greatest strength, and makes it one of the best narrative-driven games I have ever played.
While Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is technically post-apocalyptic, it looks anything but. The game opens with a view across a beautifully lush English country landscape to a quaint village in the distance. No rubble, no mutants, no disorder, no people. It’s completely deserted, just blue sky, a gentle breeze stirring the leaves… and a radio crackling in the distance.
Most of the dialog is delivered top-notch by what look like ghostly beings that have no physical features, so you are listening more than watching. And you do need to pay attention, because there’s quite a lot of subtlety here. It doesn’t treat you as a child and explain the obvious. Instead, it gives you pieces of information to digest, which you need listen to carefully, so that you know which character is which, and can therefore piece together the storyline. That’s really the core challenge – not finding the triggers for the story, but more thinking about them, and putting everything all together in your head. In that sense, the game requires some imagination.
It all comes together to create a game that’s truly special. Unlike the average AAA title, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture offers only a few precious hours of gameplay, but its experience is rich, with areas where you can breathe and take in the scenery. To put it simply, this is not an experience to rush, but appreciate and admire every step of the way. Which, of course, means it is not a game everyone will enjoy. Those looking for a more visceral experience will be bored, or may find the ambling cadence of the walk just a little too slow for comfort. Indeed, they might even find the storyline a little too droll, and the characterizations overly complex.
But for those willing to take the plunge in what is ultimately a cross between a game and an experimental piece of interactive fiction, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture combines scenes of utter beauty, touching, desperate, and sometimes even angry emotional moments between people, and a score to die for (by the game’s director, Jessica Curry) into a narrative that’s gripping, involving, and thoroughly rewarding.