Developer The Chinese Room have answered a question that has certainly been on the lips of most people: what would happen if Cormac McCarthy guest-wrote an episode of The Archers? Well, perhaps that isn’t your most burning question at the moment, but, just in case you’re curious, the answer is Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, an excellent indie game that just falls short of masterpiece material.
The spiritual sequel to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, EGTTR places you on a hilltop overlooking the sleepy community of Yaughton, a fictional Shropshire village in 1984. The catch is that Yaughton and its surrounding areas are about as vacant as a Katie Hopkins comedy gig: the entire population have disappeared almost without a trace. Your job is to explore these quaint little settlements and discover where everybody has scuttled off to, with some glowing streams of orange light to help you on your way.
EGTTR tells you its story in a number of ways, but primarily through these gleaming streams of light flying urgently through the sky. At times you’ll follow these lights if you get stuck on where to go next, but you’ll also simply stumble upon a location, and the lights then congeal into fuzzy human shapes as their impressively-acted dialogue begins. You’ll also get story exposition from the numerous radios set to numbers stations, as well as ringing telephones. Each of the five areas you visit revolve around each of the game’s main characters, and the intrigue of each of their stories deepens as you gradually make your way through the world.
Now, ‘gradually’ is the key word here: your movement speed is painfully slow, so the narrative has to drag you on by the scruff of the neck for the game to work. I’m happy to report then, that The Chinese Room’s latest effort does so with aplomb. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but EGTTR spins an emotive yarn that leaves just enough out for you to fill in the gaps.
These aren’t the only ways that the game hooks you in: you’re also presented with an unsettling convincing reproduction of middle England. From accurately realised road signs and telephone boxes to homely pubs and prettily decorated gardens, Yaughton feels like one of the most ‘real’ settings I have ever encountered. This makes the game seriously haunting at times, especially when characters are forced to contemplate their looming ends.
Death becomes real in a setting so true-to-life: when a mother sobs for her dying family, your emotional reaction is exacerbated when her home is stuffed with detailed and real possessions like her binoculars alongside her birdwatching book. Real people have birdwatching books; in EGTTR‘s mundanity lies an extremely unique and thoughtful treatment of death that I have never experienced before in quite the same way in video games.
EGTTR is singular in its aims: you’ll find no levelling, character progression or XP here. It’s a pure, focused experience, but this isn’t always for the best. As I’ve mentioned, you move at a snail’s pace, with the option to move slightly faster if you hold down R2 (on PS4). You’ll be fed none of this info mind, which is an oversight. This design choice has honourable intentions — you’re supposed to be slowly taking in the world and contemplating the tragedies that’ve recently occurred within it — but, in practice, you’ll be trudging for what feels like an age through sparsely populated farms and fields as you retrace your steps to explore the game fully.
Also, The Chinese Room’s effort will not always impress visually. Draw distances aren’t great, and, when you look closely, leaves on trees and blades of grass lack detail. This isn’t to say the game is ugly. In fact, EGTTR is capable of wondrous views and exceptional-looking landscapes, just not always up close.
Also, at the end of the game especially, poorly implemented motion controls threaten to scupper the momentum that the game builds, and things get a little muddled story and direction-wise at this point too.
But, all of this can be overlooked when Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture‘s triumphs are fully considered. The game’s reconstruction of middle England is entrancing, and draws you in with its intricate detail and contextual storytelling. The Chinese Room are very focused on their aims, and, despite significant flaws, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is an essential in your digital indie catalogue.