I always thought that it was just me, a result of growing up in cities and towns, but there has always been something sinister or eerie about a small village in England. They can become silent, still places where it feels like you are trespassing with every step. Unsurprisingly, better minds than mine have noticed the possible creep factor, as It is a setting that has featured prominently in British sci-fi for many years, from Doctor Who to J.G Ballard and John Wyndham novels, but we were yet to experience it in gaming.
That was until The Chinese Room made Everybody Has Gone To The Rapture last year, a spiritual successor to their first game Dear Esther, a slow, brooding tale about love and loss set on the Scottish islands. The result was this, a beautiful, slowly but incredibly well told story about the end of the world, and the people that were at the epicenter of it all. It's a game of stark beauty, of feeling lost and alone, of wandering. And in my opinion, this matches perfectly with it's genre.
And for a brief period, it's available as one of the free games for November on PS+.
But is it worth your time, or is it undeserving of all it's praise? And what exactly is a "walking simulator"?
Everybody Has Gone to the Rapture tells you what happened from Jump Street, heck, it's even in the title. It's the 1980's, Protect and Survive is still on TV and there are still Phoneboxes that get use. Everybody has gone, presumably to said Rapture, and you are seemingly the only one left, wandering around a area of Shropshire containing two villages and a couple farms, finding the remnants of what happened through glowing orbs of light that float around the countryside. Each orb gives you a fragment of what happened, a shadow of what was before. Where they have gone isn't the interesting part of the story though, the interesting part is how it effected this small, real people all the way to the end.
Despite only having audio and silhouettes of light to work with, The Chinese Room fleshes out every single person in the village, from the central characters, to the smallest bit part. There is the overbearing mother, who makes everything her business, the holiday camp owner who is in a failing marriage and dealing with the reappearance of a old lover, the priest suffering a crisis of faith, they are sound and act like real people, going through incredible circumstances. Even though you never see more than a outline of these people, you can easily tell them apart in the audio conversations, each person distinct and unique.
Sure, some of the dialog and plot points may veer towards soap opera sometimes, but the story and mood of it sits on top of the game world beautiful, adding depths to what may have been just a impressive English village simulator. Sure you could potter about and ignore the story, but you'd be missing out on one hell of a tale.
"Walking simulator" is something of a slur for some people, the simple boiling down of a games many facets into a single catchphrase, but, after playing this game for some time, I struggle to find a better term for it. You play as a observer of the world, and the game controls in a similar fashion. Other than being able to open doors and activate the orbs of light, there isn't much in the way of gameplay.
The Chinese Room's previous game, "Dear Esther" was very similar in gameplay and tone, and is held up as the first of the genre. On release, quite a few claimed that this lack of interactivity meant that it was "Not a game" and yes, compared to the myriad of First-Person RPG's out there, this game can seem almost empty and simplistic. But it's not trying to be those games. Everybody Has Gone To The Rapture wants to tell you a story, and it wants to use the interactive format of you wandering and discovering itself to do so. Other than the introduction cutscene, you are completely free to discover or ignore however much story you want to, but for those that do take the time to find every nook and glowing orb, you will feel rewarded.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, this game is stunning. There are moments when it seems almost photo realistic, and yes, moments where some of the assets look a little bit boxier than they should, for example the cars, but part of me may just be forgetting how square and box like 1980's cars were. It is unnerving how well they have gotten the rolling hills and forest of the English countryside, the little metal signs for street names, the red phone boxes, the village shop with cheap, swinging sign outside. I have been in places exactly like in this game, and it a testament to the creators that it fits in with almost any village you can imagine in Little England.
With the orbs of light carrying the story, you'd expect The Chinese Room to really wow with the lighting effects, and do they ever. From the orbs themselves, flowing, fluid moving points of brilliant light that dance and skitter and float around, each having their own patterns and temperament. but even the ambient light itself, dappling onto a country lane as it breaks through the virtual leaves on the trees, the almost magical way time speeds forward and reverses as you move from area to area, showing you a gorgeous sunset in the matter of seconds and then into the dark, foreboding night, only the almost silent orb floating around in the gloom. The lighting effects in this game are nothing short of gorgeous. And the sounds.
The twitter of birds and other animals really help sell the life that exists out in the countryside, bringing a naturalistic quality to the moments when the soundtrack takes a break. and oh, the soundtrack.The soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment, a orchestral, operatic rhythm to the game, capable of bringing real emotion to the simplest of in game tasks, or briefest of audio clips. Composed by The Chinese Room's own Jessica Curry, the soundtrack won a BAFTA, and rightfully so in my opinion.
Everybody Has Gone to the Rapture isn't for everyone. If you like your games fast paced and frantic, or like to be challenged by a game, then this probably isn't the game for you. This isn't a game that requires much effort to play, and certainly isn't challenging. It takes it's time, and slowly absorbs you into it's world and story.
If you've wanted to sink into a game for it's atmosphere and story, to have something relaxing and compelling, to play something that doesn't necessarily make you think but make you feel, then this game may be up your street. With it's multiple awards and a slew of other, similar games in it's wake, we will hopefully be seeing more like it from The Chinese Room in the future. Until then, you could do a lot worse, and spend a evening doing things far more wasteful than playing this little gem.
|+ Captivating Story||– Limited Gameplay|
|+ Excellent Graphics and Soundtrack||– Short Length|
|+ Easy, initiative controls||– No Run Button|
|+ Innovative Storytelling|