Where did everybody go?

Greetings.

The game I want to write about this time out is a game that has been around for a while with many high score reviews, so for what it is worth, here are my thoughts on the strange experience that is Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

So first up explanation time, I didn’t play this game on my own. I shared the experience with my other half, Claire.

After explaining the game to her and after we had enjoyed playing Gone Home she seemed interested, and as it was one of the free PSN games a couple of months back it wasn’t too much of a hardship to download it and get us started.

As we did previously with Gone Home I played the game, using the controller, on account of the fact that for some reason Claire struggles to grasp the most basic game control systems. (Don’t ask about the Worms control system – it was a complete nightmare trying to explain that one).

So, I man the controller and Claire prods and pokes and calls out instructions, and I do as I am told (sometimes). “The controller has too many buttons and life’s too short to waste trying to work it out. Besides if you use the controls I can’t break it / can concentrate on the story / puzzle” – C.

So, on to the game.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is part visual novel, part first person walking simulator, part nothing I’ve ever played before. In a similar style as Gone Home, you wander around the world, exploring and discovering the world you find yourself in (I think I’m going to create a new term for these games – Explore-’em-up ). As you explore the world, you receive hints in the form of a golden glow, which you can follow and will guide you to the main points of interest, but if you followed this then you would miss out on so much of the world and so much of the story that is hidden in radios or telephones or TVs dotted around the town.

When you find a key story point then what I call “shadows” (“And I’d call energy memories which replay conversations and add to the narrative of the game.” – C ) appear in a nice glowing golden effect, which tells you a little more about the world. These often direct you to other places, tell you about the people or the places or even clues to the overarching mystery.

Claire decided very early on to grab a pen and a sheet of paper and to start noting things down. She started noting all kinds of things, from the names of people and their relationships to each other to the codes that act as audio clues to direct you to the radios within the town.

This image may contain spoilers.

We spent a couple of afternoons playing through the game and I guess in total it probably took us maybe 15 hours tops to finish it (If you can ever say you’ve finished it because there are so many areas and unless you map it and explore it seriously then I’m sure you’ll miss some snippets of info).

Game play

In terms of game play, this game feels a little bit weird. It starts off and you think it is like your standard, usual first person affair, but it isn’t really. The longer you play this game the more comfortable the basic controls feel. Movement and camera control with the two analogue sticks as you would expect. Apart from that, there is very little in controls. The X button interacts with the environment when you discover interactive elements, doors, radios etc…

You kind of wander (s l o w l y) (“More like glide” – C ) around the world exploring the village following the aforementioned golden globes (No, not those, or *those*), finding out what has been going on in the village. Every now and then you find a really big golden ball (No, not the daytime TV quiz show either) floating in mid air. To trigger these bigger events you have to use the sixaxis part of the controller and tilt until it triggers. What I had been doing was tilting the controller left and right until the golden ball released it’s energy (Sorry – I’ll stop now) but it was literally the *last* one of these that I realised I should be using that to hold the controller in a specific place. Oh well. It really didn’t spoil the game. Just meant that we spent a bit longer waiting for these nuggets (See what I did there?) of info.

I had no problems at all with the controls, and this didn’t affect our enjoyment at all.

Graphics

Right, let’s get this out of the way first. This game is gorgeous. I mean stunning. This game is Scarlett Johansson. (Sorry Claire) Wow.

“Whatever, there’s a new Ewan film out… 😉
The graphics are really beautiful and detailed the landscape of the game is impressive and the way the light and shadows change as you travel through the game is so realistic” – C.

I don’t think I’ve seen anything that looks like this. In a game. Ever. Look at these screenshots..

I really can only say that this game is impressive. Technically I know that the area that you can explore is much smaller than most games, but there are very few that look this good. The amount of time spent on the textures and effects must be mind blowing. The running water looks amazing in motion, flowing gently just as any lake district river does in real life.

Sound design

“You should add something about the soundtrack” – C.

Yes Claire, yes. I should. This game has really impressive sound design. Audio clues to lead you to different places. As you are walking around you might hear a telephone ringing, and you usually have to use the sound to work out where you need to be heading. Beeping on the radio does the same job. In addition to these little snippets of excellence there are also a few short pieces of music which begin playing (I think) randomly as you are exploring and a few pieces that swell emotionally when you solve a puzzle or clear a section. Every single sound or audio clue is calculated to add to the atmosphere of the game, and it really does.

Story

I’m not going to say too much about the story, other than to say that the overall story  is edited into chapters, named after the main protagonist, You explore what happened to various people around the town and when you have completed each segment, you move on. You don’t have to finish one chapter before you start on the next, and I’m sure we didn’t finish all of the individual sections but we did find out what actually happened to everybody.

When you do finish a chapter you get a beautiful almost cut scene which Claire absolutely loved (She is very arty) and then you progress to the next part of the town.

“It’s not arty, it’s an interactive 3D computer generated piece. 😉

The atmosphere is initially eerie because the people are not evident initially and you’re not sure why. As you progress through the game and the focus of it changes there is a scene so magical that it took my breath away.” – C.

Overall

Overall Claire and I really enjoyed this game, she loved trying to work out what happened and how the various characters related to each other, how they interacted and what was likely to happen next and I really enjoyed the experience of exploring the world and trying to find all the radios / telephones.

Claire seems to really enjoy these games, these explorathons that we do every now and then. My next challenge is to find something else in a similar style. Maybe Firewatch (The trailer seemed to pique her interest)…Maybe Dear Esther and we’ll see where Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture came from.

I was really impressed with this game, it’s kind of a chill-out game, a nice relaxing game for when you are stuck on another game, just fire up this, wander around and do a bit of relaxing exploration.

For what it’s worth, this game meant that Claire and I spent a good couple of hours talking about game development and game design and how it compares to other mediums…I think that counts as a success for The Chinese Room 😉

Right. I could write a book about this game and it’s place in the world of video games so I’m going to stop here and go and do something else.

See you all soon.

PS.

It appears that writing down the codes was not as silly as we thought. At the conclusion of the credits there was a huge chunk of numbers that correspond to the codes on the radios I mentioned earlier. Do they mean something? Turns out that they probably do. The internet being populated somewhat with geeks, there is a forum where this is discussed, in depth. Turns out it’s a cipher and that cypher spells out a quote, but if you want to know then you’ll have to either play the game or go and find the forum for yourself (It’s really hard to write stuff about this game without spoilers).

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