Gaming

GammaSquad Review: ‘Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture’

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has gotten two kinds of reviews: Glowing ones that praise the game’s ambition and storytelling through game mechanics, and angry rants about how pretentious and dull it is. Which ones are right? Both of them!

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PS4)

Artistic Achievement

The game wears its influences on its sleeve, just like Dear Esther was blatantly a tribute to the work of Lord Dunsay. Right off the bat, there’s a big honking Phillip K. Dick reference that’s almost the first thing you see, and it’s clearly influenced by the “thinking man’s” SF of the ’60s and ’70s. Shropshire in 1984 isn’t exactly a commonplace setting in video games, and often this feels like playing through a cult movie as you piece together the plot.

Said plot is given to you by using phones and radios to eavesdrop on conversations and listen to private diary entries, and chasing a fireball around, which leads you to cutscenes you can unlock by wiggling your controller. Wiggle it right, and you’ll see something that happened in the recent past, reenacted by abstract patterns of light.

Overall, it nails the mood and atmosphere it’s going for. There’s not a game that looks and feels quite like this.

Innovation

Expect a lot of “walking simulator” jokes about this game; pretty much all you do is walk around Shropshire and look at stuff. It’s essentially an adventure game stripped down to its barest bones, and the real innovation is in how you put together the story.

Execution

It’s easy, as a critic, to appreciate any developer trying something different, and this game’s approach to interactive storytelling, where you dig out the breadcrumbs and put them together yourself, is well-executed in the broad strokes. Unfortunately, video games are about the details, and that’s where Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture stumbles.

For example, it has the unfortunate one-two punch of having a bad script that it takes very, very seriously. There’s one plot thread that boils down to somebody’s mother demanding her son cheat on his wife because… well, she’s racist? I think? As a general rule, if a character in this game isn’t awful, they’re flat, and most of the plots are the stuff of rural soap opera… a teenage romance here, a dead spouse there, nothing to see here, move along.

Adding to the problem are some annoying design choices and missteps. The only thing you do in this game is walk around and look at stuff, and yet, you have no idea what stuff you can interact with beyond glowing plot points, and your walking speed is a crawl. Don’t be fooled by that “run” button, either; it’s a “slightly faster crawl” button, and you have to hold down R2 for long stretches. The finger cramps aren’t worth it.

This would be fine if the enormous game world were densely packed with collectibles, stuff to look at, and little details to mull over, but it isn’t. You can’t read the books, you can’t go into most of the buildings, heck, you can’t even kick around the soccer balls in the backyards.

The game is full of little annoyances like this, whether it’s a refusal to color-code its abstract patterns of light to make its cutscenes more coherent or a failure to signpost when you’re about to wrap up a level. So much time was spent on the environment and placing everything just so, nobody thought to ask whether it worked as a game.

Staying Power

Unless you’re a trophy hunter, and this game has some ridiculously tough trophies, you’ll wrap this game up in three to four hours. It’ll probably be more if you hunt down every radio, guide map, and infinity symbol, but beyond a certain point, you’re probably going to run out of patience.

Bullsh*t Factor

There’s going to be some grumbling about the $20 price, but this isn’t the kind of game where you buy a DLC pass. That $20 will be the only money you pay.

Final Thoughts

I can appreciate what this game’s trying to do, in the broad strokes. The Chinese Room is exploring games as a storytelling medium in ways we haven’t seen elsewhere. And as an experiment, it’s a success: If you’re interested in the principles of storytelling and game design, it’s a must-play.

That said, it’s reflective of a certain unpleasant idea that you find in “serious” fans of types of art and that I really don’t want to see in video games, that idea of “cultural vegetables.” You see that essay in the link make the rounds every few years on the more pretentious parts of the internet, but to sum it up, the basic idea is that if something has grand ambitions, you should respect that more than the execution, doubly so if said execution is slow and boring.

That’s a dullard’s view of art. It’s not wrong to admire ambition and effort, but art is also about the skill and thoughtfulness an artist applies to those ideas. There are movies, novels, and albums that I wouldn’t call “fun” with a knife to my throat, but they’re not boring, either. Once The Chinese Room builds not just a story, but a game, they’ll likely have a classic, but this is not that game. So unless you like bold experiments that don’t quite work…

Verdict: Don’t Waste Your Time

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