Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (Rapture henceforth) is The Chinese Room’s first foray onto consoles, but is certainly not the first attempt at an atmospheric narrative. Based in rural England in 1984, Rapture is all about discovery through exploration and observation. At its core, it is a mystery game. You’re wandering alone through the world, and you have to figure out why that is – or so it seemed from the demonstration. The presenter was incredibly tight lipped about anything story related, which is reasonable enough when the story is the core of the experience for your title.
It’s “a game about the end of the world,” it was explained, it’s about just existing in the world. Far from your typical end of the world game, though, you’re not fighting for survival, you’re hunting information. There are apparently no fail states in Rapture. You can’t lose the game. In fact, the only thing The Chinese Room considers a failure in Rapture is when “the player doesn’t care.” This was a theme during the presentation.
“It’s a game about people,” and “emotional relationships with characters.” As you wander through the apocalypse – a gorgeous, pastoral experience, rather than burning buildings and overturned cars – you’ll run into what are basically shades of the past. Standing, walking shadows, having conversations. It’s on you whether to follow them and listen, or to move along on your own. You’ll never be forced to endure more story dialogue than you’re interested in. The voices won’t follow you. Simply walk away, and they’ll fade into the background.
The atmosphere is astonishing. The music is hard to get a feel for at a show like E3, but the choir vocals which were a major part of the game’s audio, were absolutely haunting. The empty world, with only flickering shadows of people populating it further established an endearing, if a little creepy-in-just-the-right-way feel that was hard to shake after the presentation. The contrast between Rapture‘s world and the overflowing show floor of E3 helped drive home the depth of the experience.
The controls are as simple as they come, with movement, look, single-button interaction, and tilt controls for one particular kind of in-game event. That’s it. The uber-simple control scheme is very telling in the kind of game this is. It’s not about action, it’s about a story. The sounds in the game try to keep you immersed in the end of the world as well. Instead of a looping “woosh” sound when you’re standing in a wheat field, the sounds are procedurally generated, alongside environment factors like the wind, which make for a unique audio experience each time you venture through the same field. It’s a small thing, but the dedication to a truly unique experience is really what this is saying, and it says it loudly.
Rapture isn’t exactly my kind of game. As much as I like story, I tend to like it interspersed with action and gameplay. The story in Rapture is the gameplay, and vice versa. Even skeptical as I am, though, I won’t pretend I wasn’t hugely impressed with the visuals, the sound, the fact that this game puts the onus on you to experience the story – or to ignore it completely.