I love video games, but it’s rare for me to play them right when they are first released. Normally it takes me a somewhere from a few months to a few years to get around to playing to a game. I’ve got a considerable backlog of games that I’ve been meaning to play and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to start chipping away at the list. With that in mind, I’ve created a series of posts called Late to the Party, wherein I discuss the games that came out in the preceding years that I’m finally getting around to experiencing. Today’s entry in the series is Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which was one of the free games available in November 2016 for PlayStation Plus subscribers. Downloadable games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are normally not available for rental unless they get a disc release in the future, and unfortunately this means I pass over most of them, but thanks to PlayStation Plus I got a chance to play a game that I otherwise would never experience.
Set in the 1980s, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture drops you into fictional Shropshire County in rural England. Though Shropshire might seem an unremarkable place of little importance, something dramatic has happened here that has caused the entire population to vanish. And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. This is a game that works best the less you know about it when you start, so I’m not going to reveal anything else, and I’m not going to embed any videos in this commentary. In fact, I would go so far as to tell you to stop reading this commentary right now and just play the game. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has my stamp of approval, and I’d encourage you to get it if you can. However, if you’re not going to be able to play it any time soon, or if you just enjoy my work, then read on.
Not since Journey on the PlayStation 3 have I played a game that had me so captivated from start to finish, and that I could call an “experience” with a straight face. The mystery behind Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture got its hooks into me from the first minute of the game and had me scouring the land to try to learn its secrets. Storytelling is done via objects you find in the world, as well as scattered telephones and radios that hold audio logs, but most distinctively Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture tells its tale through visions of events prior to and during whatever befell the residents of Shropshire. In these visions you see and hear human-shaped clusters of lights reenacting brief snippets of what was going on in the world, in the very same places they were when the events happened, with different regions of the world focusing on a particular character. Most of these visions are triggered just by entering a particular place, and you’ll frequently see them out of chronological order, which requires you to mentally rearrange them to form the game’s storyline. Some of these visions are tucked away in hidden spots, but the game also gives you a floating orb of light that guides you around to the main plot points, so even if you don’t trigger every vision you can still figure out what happened.
If you’ve played games like Gone Home, you know what to expect from Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. You walk around Shropshire County in first-person, using an extremely basic control scheme to move, look, and interact with the environment. And really, that’s all you need for this sort of game. There’s no one to fight, no high score to hit, no vehicles to pilot, no in-game puzzles to solve, and no way to fail (unless you stop playing the game). The simplistic gameplay of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture will be off-putting to some people, but in my opinion it works just fine and makes perfect sense for the game’s narrative. A playthrough of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture lasts about five to seven hours, depending on how much time you spend exploring the world, and if possible I would recommend experiencing the whole game in a single day.
In both the visual, and particularly in the audio departments, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture delivers masterclass performances. Though not the most technically advanced game, strong art direction and lighting have crafted a beautiful and idyllic world to explore. Flowers, trees, grasses, and other vegetation, together with the radiant sun paint the landscape in a cornucopia of earth tone colors reminiscent of great pastoral paintings. Homes, businesses, and other human constructs look believable and well used, like you are walking in on peoples’ lives a mere moment after they hastily ran out the door. Sound design is also good, but standing high and above anything else the game does is its soundtrack. The music of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is in a class of its own, and is one of the best, if not THE best, game soundtrack I’ve heard so far this year.
Yet for all of the things Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture does well, there are unfortunately a few of technical and gameplay issues that hold it back from achieving true greatness. Environmental pop-in of smaller plants occurs a fair number of times in certain regions of the world, and though the framerate stays steady through most of the game there are noticeable drops at odd moments, like when opening gates or transitioning out of some of the main story visions. Additionally, the guiding orb of light got stuck in the middle of a field at one point during my playthrough, forcing me to reload the game in order to resolve the glitch. The orb itself oftentimes disappears into the distance as it races off to the next location of the main story, which isn’t usually a problem since it comes back into view after a little while, but it would have been nice if there was a button that instantly brought it back to you and then let it go so that you could immediately pick up the trail of the main story at any point in the game. The biggest problem with Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, however, is that there’s no way to run in the game. Yes, if you hold down the R2 button for seven seconds (a strange requirement in itself) you will start to move a bit faster, but not fast enough for a game with long distances between regions and no fast-travel options. In Gone Home this slow movement could be overlooked since you were exploring the interior of a single house, and when you’re indoors in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture it’s not a big deal to be moving slowly, but in-between buildings you’ll be regularly moving along roads or crossing fields, and those times necessitate a faster way to travel. It’s strange that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has such a glaring gameplay flaw in it, and I can only guess that there’s some sort of technical issue with the game’s engine that prevented the developers from implementing it.
Though it never rises to the heights of a game like Journey, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is still a good game, and definitely surpasses Gone Home in the first-person exploration genre. A compelling non-linear story, simple but fitting gameplay, a finely constructed world, and an outstanding soundtrack come together to forge a video games that won’t be leaving my mind any time soon. True, it has its flaws, but the core experience is strong enough to power through these issues. Ok, so at this point you’ve read all the way to the end even though I told you earlier to stop reading and play the game. There’s nothing more to read now, so cease your dallying and get to it (or at the very least add Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture to your list of games to play eventually).