Everybody’s Gone to Rapture – Review
I struggle with people who buy pretty things just because they are pretty.
Let’s take jewellery for example. I own two rings that I wear with any semblance of frequency, but they represent the most beautiful things in the world to me. One is a blue star sapphire that reflects in the sunlight to create a singular, beautiful hopeful motif on my finger. It looks stunning, and it feels magical, and I have received many compliments on my “good taste”. However I wear it because it also happens to be a treasure left to me by a relative, and reminds me of a gorgeous person who impacted my life for the better.
In contrast, I observe people who turn up on my Instagram feed that are wearing their latest Oroton or Tiffany & Co. bling, and expressing how important it is to indulge in the pretty things to feel “fabulous”. It infuriates me because it feels shallow, superficial, and devoid of the emotional substance that should be present in all beautiful things.
And then there is Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
This is a beautiful game – a fact that would be disrespectful to forget and negligent to avoid. I appreciated the bold contrast of the early moments and how they melted into a warm, engaging, brilliant landscape. In contrast to this grandness are the intricate details to complement the stage – a small English village in the 1980s with its friendly inn, local parish and neighbourly mechanic. Every element is delicately placed in the landscape with flawless attention to detail, and then punctuated with bloodied tissues and small radios. It dazzles when it wants to, and confronts because it can – either way it makes you weak at the knees. All of these elements, when considered together, have the power to remind the player of its human inhabitants and the abject terror of an unexplained event, which dissolved an entire town and barely registered as a blip on the social consciousness radar.
More significant, and intentionally flaunted in view like a lollipop in the face of a fussy toddler, were random floating orbs of light that were most likely designed to either delight or intrigue the player to poke and prod into the lives of the missing citizens.
This is where the game started to lose some of its excitement and edge. It’s been said by many reviewers and I am happy to say it again with a slightly Australian slant: it was categorically unfair for my avatar to have no easily-recognised ability to catch up to the pretty orbs that were designed to intrigue me to begin with. If I am meant to explore, then I am allowed to set the pace. I wanted to run with urgency, haste, or even with some demented sense of naive delight that I would find answers in these light forms as Kate suggests in her audio logs.
To be blunt, I should have been able to achieve this without having to pass a Queensland Core Skills test.
There is no valid explanation, not even a “whoopsie-doodle-forgot-to-mention-it”, for a player to feel cheated out of a mechanic that is valid to choose their exploratory momentum. Hearing later that there was a sprint mechanic was even more infuriating, especially when it was treated as a musical accelerando (hold down R2 over about seven seconds and you will gradually get faster). In the end, I refused to use something that would make me feel like I was dialling up on a treadmill rather than satisfy my anxiety-fuelled need to sprint in short bursts like a regular human being.
Further disrespecting my emotional immersion was the limited ways I could engage with the environment. Hedges were crafted into sophisticated mazes that blocked my natural exploration. Some doorbells worked, others didn’t. I felt despair as Amanda recounted to Father Jeremy her attempt to leave the village, and as I went upstairs to check the other rooms in the house and resolve my concern for Amanda’s family, I was locked out of three and directed to one with a pointed bloody tissue. Apparently I should only be interested in the bloody tissue. Apparently I was not getting the message that these people had blood coming out of a facial orifice. Apparently I required this beaten into my senses enough times that I would get a cranial bleed myself.
At that stage, when the feelings of disrespect festered and boiled in my nerves, I started to wonder: what on earth am I doing here, and am I actually more of an annoyance than a participant? I had always considered that The Chinese Room was a potentially strong advocate for games that include an immersive and exploratory world with an organic story. Allegedly there was magical success for the Dear Esther mod and subsequent remake. I can see that a valid purpose of exploration is not only to retell the story, but to contribute to it. Am I simply not suited to the “walking simulator” genre?
Then I considered the other immersive environments that I have played in. A half-successful MMORPG has enough of an immersive world to be enjoyable, even with all of the fetch quests. I have never experienced an unsatisfying moment – I always felt that I did something or learned something even if it was journeying to another map area with little progress. However, here I feel as if I am tripping over the story rather than contributing to it or even retelling, and that is a far more unsettling feeling than a dotted path of bloodied hankies.
This balance never seems to hit the mark, and I never figured out if I was being shuffled along between various golden Navi-cousins to facilitate the story, or if they actually wanted me to discover and learn and experience the town itself. Neither mechanic met its potential. Don’t get me wrong, it is an interesting story, and I can deal with a fuzzy resolution (come on – anyone who played the original Mass Effect 3 ending and came away unscathed would manage fine with this). But other games with immersive large environments and complex stories seem to manage their flow state ten times better than Rapture. It comes back to the idea of energised focus and involvement leading to that enjoyment. That enjoyment doesn’t need to be positive – it can be the experience of tension, or a strong sense of empathy. Obstructing this flow with two half-baked methods of play, exploration or exposition, was disappointing.
Therefore, is not surprising that everyone is commenting on how pretty this game is. Similar to that Tiffany & Co. bracelet tagged with diamonds, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is that dazzling accessory. However, without context or a way to appreciate it, it seems wasteful and downright showy. Some people may find an immense sense of empathy with love and despair and will be satisfied to take the developer’s lead in how it should be played. For others it is going to simply feel as if it is taking every slow, ploddy moment to shove its gorgeousness down our throats and demand that we acknowledge it.
Worst of all, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture only reminds me that, if you don’t try to appreciate me and my care factor, then I have no obligation to appreciate you.