Dave Ryan goes on a mysterious journey.
We live in interesting times. In recent years, many seasoned gamers and those within the industry itself have spoken of a creeping fatigue with AAA releases. At the same time, the rise of digital game publishing has helped ensure it’s never been a better time to release the games that aren’t going to do Call of Duty numbers: the short games, the indie games, and the weird games have never had fewer barriers between themselves and the consumer. I have spoken on our podcast (shameless plug) multiple times about my active pursuit for these unique experiences, flying the ‘videogames as art’ flag as I do.
And so we come to the heart of the matter- Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, a PS4 exclusive game from The Chinese Room, the British studio responsible for Dear Esther, Korsakovia and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. This game is a first-person, story driven adventure game set in a village in Shropshire where the player walks alone throughout, investigating the events that culminated in the end of the world. The lives of six different inhabitants of this village make up the core story to Rapture, and by investigating their movements in the time leading up to ‘The Event’, you gradually become more drawn into the mystery of exactly what has happened. Guiding you through these people’s lives are glowing spheres of light that, following a brief moment of ‘tuning’ by turning your Dualshock into a sweet spot, erupt into stunning light arrays that re-enact a particular scene from the particular narrative you are following.
As a visual spectacle, Rapture is magnificent. The environments are wonderfully rendered, perhaps not as mind-bogglingly impeccable as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, but stunning nonetheless. At times I find myself aimlessly ambling around the village gawping at how incredible the sky, the trees, or even the local pub look. And during the early hours of the game, where perhaps some players may not necessarily be thrilled about the speed you move through the world at (more on that soon), what helps significantly is just how much there is to look at all around you.
If the visuals are a considerable part of why this game is so enthralling, the soundtrack to the game has just as much impact. From the first swell of music as the game opened, revealing the world I was jumping into, it was clear that the soundtrack was something special. Composed by Jessica Curry, the classical nature of the score throughout the game compliments both the beauty of the game’s visuals, and the tense and eerie nature of the story. It is a score that haunts you throughout your experience with the game, sweeping from beautiful to tense, and also succeeds in being tragic and utterly heart-breaking at times. Listening to the music in the brief teaser trailer for the game should give you a good picture of what you can expect.
But Rapture is not without its flaws. Though it was not something I found troubling, some would describe this as a ‘walking simulator’, as there is not much else to do in the game besides walking around and interacting with the light. There are no enemies to fight, no skills to hone, no mechanics more complicated than having a look around and occasionally tilting the controller. Speaking of walking, one of the game’s major problems is the speed at which you traverse the world. Your character is not winning any races, to say the least. The developers have been keen to point out that despite it not saying so on the controls page in the pause menu, holding down R2 lets you build up to a brisk walk, to which I would say firstly, well that’s your own fucking fault for not telling anybody that like it was a closely guarded secret and secondly, that brisk walk is still going to feel too slow for a lot of gamers. I myself had no issue with the speed, thanks to how much I was distracted by all the pretty things, but I certainly acknowledge the frustration some people will experience attempting to track back over a massive environment at the speed of glacial erosion.
Rapture is a different experience, and one that I believe certainly embraces the notion of ‘videogames as art’, it is not a game in a traditional sense as much as it is an enthralling interactive narrative experience, and one that to this reviewer is more than worth the money he paid for it.