Despite finding them rather flawed and ultimately meddling, I have this strange fascination with the newborn first-person adventure game genre. Better known by the mainstream audience by the half damning, half honest moniker of “walking simulators”. I believe what attracts me to this very specific style of game is their dogged determination to make experiencing their worlds and stories their primarily focus. These types of games often feel like exciting risks, going against popular trends of the video game industry of shooting things or leveling-up your character, seeking instead to push the medium in some new, more nuanced directions.
For a lot of people their seminal experience with the first-person adventure genre is with the massively popular Gone Home, but one of my early formative experiences with the genre was The Chinese Room’s debut title, Dear Esther. It was an immensely beautiful game where the actual narrated story felt disconcertingly unattached to the world you were exploring. Like how I felt about every game in the genre, it felt rough and unrefined in myriad ways. The Chinese Room now has followed-up Dear Esther with Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, another “walking simulator” but on a much larger open-world scope. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture iterates on the first-person adventure games genre in some successful ways, but stumbles in familiar fashions as most of these games tend to do.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has you controlling an anonymous character who has journeyed to the English town of Yaughton that is completely abandoned. Upon further investigation of the land and the strange radio messages left throughout the environment, you come to the realization that a mysterious cosmic energy had arrived to this tiny English village and took all of the people away. Why this town, who were the people who used to live here, and just what this empyreal force is are perhaps question which will not be answered to your fullest satisfaction by the end of things, but this depends on how much of the world you explore and how deeply you read into it all.
And to be frank, the story is actually by far the least interesting aspect of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and that’s most likely not by design. Your interaction with the story is simply by running into and activating ghostly images of people, playing back a conversation or event with people and objects recreated in abstracted motes of light. Basically, these are fancy audio logs and as this rapturous event has already happened, the world and thus the story feels static and dead in a way that made it hard for me to connect. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture seems to know this, and gives you a very generous idea of what is going on almost painfully apparent from the get-go, which I won’t spoil in case this premise attracts you at all. By the end of my playthrough my understanding of the plot did not truly change or evolve, making the whole endeavor feel lost.
What I did develop was a strong distaste for most of the characterization at work in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. While the town of Yaughton is one open-world, it’s splintered off in districts of sorts with different architecture, weather, and geography with each district generally focusing on the movements and conversations of a single character. It’s a strong way to break-up the story in a non-linear fashion, and rewards players to dig into aspects of the story that these characters represent. The problem is that these characters you follow and learn about never feel like living, breathing people. Usually what defines these people are two or three simple desires which can usually be summarized with “loves her son but hates his wife” or “wants a family” or “conflicted man of God” but these fundamental concepts are never, ever taken beyond these basic set-ups. This hurts the story twofold as the plot of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is so basic that you don’t have much to entangle with there, and the character arcs are so underwhelming that there’s nothing really to sink your teeth into on that front either. This gets even worse when the game at the very end tries its hand at some incomprehensible philosophical science-fiction mumbo-jumbo as the plot is too basic to support its lofty ideas, and the characters so flimsy and empty to properly encompass and prepare you for its high-minded ideas and concepts of the end game.
But what Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has successfully accomplished over its predecessor is create a world that is in harmony tonally and realistically with the characters and story it is trying to develop. The land of Yaughton is such an incredibly well-realized and intensely atmospheric world to explore and get caught-up in, that it didn’t really bother me when the story and characterization fell completely flat. Other games in the genre like Gone Home felt over-engineered, crammed bursting with meaning and details until it lost its believability. The sheer scale and scope of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture enables it to spread its sensory information and human elements in a more level way which makes it far more realistic and atmospheric than anything in Gone Home, Dear Esther and anything else in the entire genre.
This is further successfully supported by impressive audio-visual production values which brings the world of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture to life in remarkable ways. The game in almost every frame is gorgeous with generally high quality textures and most importantly gorgeous, dynamic lightning which evolves and changes between some of the activated story sequences and weather changes between different districts of Yaughton. Walking through the environment, listening to the hauntingly beautiful choir and classical orchestrated soundtrack of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was a delicious treat, which tells a story far better than any of its writing or scripted story moments ever do. The voice acting is fairly unremarkable, but I perhaps blame the emotionless and haphazard script more than a fairly decent cast that includes the likes of Merle Dandridge and Kezia Burrows.
But unfortunately even its world was hampered constantly in my playthrough by the instability of the game. The game either straight-up crashed on me or the ghostly ball of energy that guides you to each story point became broken, stuck or simply kept drifting in circles several times which resulted in restarting the game or moving on to the next area as I couldn’t get my ghost guide friend to work. The game also drops frames constantly, especially during its more visually exciting moments, which does reduce the impact of its visual design significantly.
More damning though is the painfully slow pace of your character. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture felt more like a crawling simulator than a walking simulator, and made backtracking to previous areas to discover more story feel incredibly frustrating and mind-numbingly boring. I was able to do my research before publishing this review to know now that there is in fact a “sprint” button in the game, but only by going to the developer’s website and reading a blog apologizing for not explaining this feature in the game itself. Such a fact is unacceptable, and permanently damaged my initial impressions and playthrough, and cannot be forgiven. But even when going back into the game to test the “sprint” I found it incredibly useless as you have to hold down the related button for an extended period of time before it ramps up into a faster gait which is inconvenient, and honestly doesn't really move you that much faster in the end anyway so whatever, right?
As a story and piece of character drama, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture feels like gigantic mess. A fascinating, sometimes promising mess to be certain, but in the end a disappointing bit of clutter. Its beautiful, well-realized English village with strong weather and lightning effects and strong classical soundtrack does not fully redeem Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture underdeveloped plot and complete lack of meaningful characterization. Not to mention the game’s glitchy nature and more insufferable movement speed, in both of its “walking” and “sprinting” modes which makes it feel like it doesn’t even get the “walking simulator” part of its dismissive genre name right.
All of these different factors stack together to make it difficult to even recommend this game to fans of this style of game. People who like Gone Home or Proteus will miss the more sophisticated storytelling and even basic relatable human elements of those worlds, and people who couldn’t tolerate the pace of those games will be driven completely insane by how slow this game moves and feels even in comparison to the other methodical games in the first-person adventure genre. Yaughton is definitely a beautiful place to take a trip to, but Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture never does it proper justice.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)