Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is Gorgeous, Complex, and Quietly Terrifying
Lost and gone forever.
My experience with Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, though brief, kept my brain busy for hours afterward. Following my play time, I couldn't play anything else. I just couldn't process anything new. My mind kept spinning back to patterns of splintered light, motes of glittering gold dust, and endless silent depictions of abandonment and pain. All I did was take a walk in a video game, and it chilled me so deeply it took hours to return to the warmth of reality.
Set to launch this summer as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is very reminiscent of developer The Chinese Room's previous games, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and Dear Esther. You spend much of your time walking around--you can't jump, sprint, or do anything other than trudge through abandoned towns. Occasionally you can interact with objects, but nothing more involved than opening doors or walking up stairs. You walk into houses and up roads, into churches and through playgrounds, looking for clues to everyone's disappearance.
According to The Chinese Room creative director Dan Pinchbeck, the game is set in 1984 in the rural English countryside. This era, a time before the internet and smart phones, was an easier environment in which to depict isolation. This is also the Cold War era, where constant fear reigns.
"The media was bombarding us with all the things that could possibly go wrong," Pinchbeck told us of his memories of that era. "I remember in school having to watch videos about nuclear bombs being dropped. It was still a tense time. So we wanted to portray an isolated community, a sense of that rural-ness, that traditional English bucolic golden age, and we also wanted to get under its skin and play with it."
There is no user interface, no text bubbles, nothing to guide you other than twinkling gold lights that pop up from time to time. Lights floating in place are imprints of the people who have left this world behind. To unlock these conversations, you use the DualShock 4's gyroscope feature, tilting it in all directions until the gold light begins to spin and emit a loud, high-pitched sound. It feels like tuning a radio to find a static-free channel, which I imagine is what The Chinese Room was going for; but instead of looking for radio stations, you're looking to tap into memories. A burst of light indicates you've done it right, and you are then made witness to memories of the departed.
Moments like this are scattered through each area in the game, peppering the small towns you visit searching for clues. There are a select few you need to find in order to witness important chains of events, but many are optional. These optional unlocks, however, will give you more insight into the story, so if you want deeper details on Rapture's mystery, you'll need to find them all. It's entirely up to you, and how much you care, in exploring the world and figuring out what's going on.
Overall there are six main characters in Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, with six major stories arcs and many small ones. This is quite a bit to chew on, if you're intent on finding all of them.
"In each location, while you're broadly following one story, you're also encountering others. You can be setting things up in one area that you can see the outcome of in another, " Pinchbeck said. "One of the biggest questions we've asked ourselves is, how are we going to make you care enough about these characters that, three hours later when you're playing as someone else, you'll still associate some of the things you've seen with characters that you've already played as. It really does take a lot of work ensuring that things resonate enough."
And that's the wonderful thing about Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. After nearly 45 minutes working my way through one small town, one small piece of the plot's puzzle, I still had no idea what was going on. I felt like I had gotten somewhere, not enough to be confident in my assumptions but just enough to leave me distraught and breathless. What's happening in Rapture goes beyond weird into openly scary territory, which in no small part is because of the game's audio design.
Walking through the game, soft music follows you. The sound heightens in volume and pitch when you come across the streaks and ball of gold light that lead you to your next destination. Here, music crescendos and twists into an almost ethereal tone, sounding less like music and more like some otherworldly something settling on you. Then everything goes quiet and all you hear are voices--voices of the people who once existed in this space but do no longer, people who have mysteriously vanished without a trace.
Sometimes these conversations end with a horrific cacophony of screeching and radio static, and I don't know what's more unnerving: the calm fear these no-longer-existing people speak as they wink out of existence, or the sound itself, which is inhuman, metallic, and jarring.
It's the apocalypse, that's for certain. But exactly what's causing it is unclear. And the overwhelming sadness that permeates the environment--cars parked haphazardly with doors open, cigarette stubs left smoking in ashtrays, wads of bloody tissues left scattered on floors, on beds, on sidewalks...It's captivating in the most heartbreaking, sorrowful way. Something horrible has happened, and I'm afraid to find out what.