Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture dumps the player on a hill overlooking a fictional village called Yaughton in the west of England. The game is entirely first-person, and the player can only do two things: walk and look around. There’s also an action button that can be used to turn on radios, pick up ringing phones, and enter open doors and gates, but we never see the player character’s hands. The player is thus little more than a moving point of view. This is just fine, because Yaughton is gorgeous, but it took me awhile to figure out what I needed to do to progress the story.
What I eventually learned was this:
* If a door is closed, you can’t open it.
* The purpose of the glowing comet is to lead you through the game.
* You have to use the controller’s tilt function to get the pinpoints of light to talk (which makes sense in the context of the story, although as a gimmick it’s probably not worth the PS4 console exclusivity).
After climbing down from the hill, the player is confronted with a jumble of buildings and several intersections. Since you can go in almost every house, not to mention every house’s backyard and garage and garden shed, it was difficult for me to resist the temptation not to do so. I kept encountering radios that can be turned on to get a bit of story, as well as shimmers of light that resolved into stylized representations of people sharing brief conversations.
Aside from these radios and glowing afterimages, Yaughton is completely deserted, and your job is to figure out what happened. “What happened” turns out to be a combination of things, none of which is ever properly explained, but it the heart of the mystery doesn’t really matter. What matters is the human drama that explodes out of the core of the crisis.
Still, the front end of the game is loaded with tons of disconnected narratives and characters whose relationship to each other isn’t immediately apparent. After almost two hours of wandering around and trying to figure things out, I finally realized that the tourist maps posted around the town function as maps of the game, and that I was only at the beginning.
Despite the lovely scenery, the first bit of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is fairly stagnant. The light is totally flat, and there is no wind moving the leaves in the trees or garbage across the streets. More than anything else, my first impression of Yaughton was that it was a stage setting that the game developers were too lazy or too rushed to animate. I stopped caring about seeing and finding everything and decided to follow the glowing comet to progress the story.
What the comet showed me was a series of conversations centered around a priest, Father Jeremy Wheeler, who was trying to come to terms with his faith in relation to what was happening to the town. After a climactic scene, the game changes, and something amazing happens. I’m not going to spoil the surprise, but OH MY GOD. It was so beautiful that I may have cried a little.
After that, the game becomes both more structured and more visually dynamic. The player now understands that each area of the game is the stage for a narrative surrounding one character, an understanding the game encourages by having the name of that character appear on the screen as one of the choral pieces of its soundtrack plays during the transition from area to area. After the first transition, the world of the game also becomes more active, with floating pollen, falling leaves, swaying flowers, billowing air-dried laundry, and moving shadows suggesting wind moving through the trees. As the natural world becomes more alive, so too do the characters as the pieces of the story gradually start coming together.
I should say, however, that the comet that guides the player through the story is kind of a dick sometimes. It will lead you to some things, but not to everything, and if you decide you’re going to ignore it and go off the path it’s trying to lead you along it will disappear and go somewhere where you can’t find it. In the Appleton’s Farm area in particular, I got lost and had to reset the game twice just to bring the comet back to me.
All of my complaints are my own damn fault, though. I understand the artistic decision to make the initial section of Yaughton disorienting and motionless, and it would make sense to have the comet not bother a player who seems to want to go off on her own. If I were better at knowing how to act with 3D environments, I wouldn’t have had so much trouble.
I’m worried that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has elevated my tolerance for beauty. In the future, a video game is going to need to be at least as graphically, aurally, and narratively beautiful as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture to provoke the same sort of overwhelming joy I experienced while playing.
In any case, I enjoyed Kirk Hamilton’s full write-up of the plot, which is a good read and contains a number of high-quality screenshots. It also poses many interesting questions and offers some excellent answers.
( Header image taken from the Gamespot review of the game )