Interactive storytelling still has a long ways to go but with developers like The Chinese Room exploring new ways to deliver virtual narratives, we continue to make strides. The Dear Esther team has a new, highly atmospheric and unsurprisingly sentimental adventure called Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture . It’s coming exclusively to PlayStation 4 in August and really, this game plays out more like a humanity case study as opposed to a post-apocalyptic survival tale. All we know is that the world has suffered a catastrophic blow and we’re forced to wander through the aftermath, desperate to find reasons for the collapse. In the end, we’re searching for stories of people, which is poignant in and of itself.
This is a non-linear, open-world experience that still manages to put a premium on the story and characters. How do people respond in the face of impossible odds? And is there any hope in solving the mystery? If you’re the only one left, how can there be any hope at all? You must persevere; you must discover the fate of your fellow man by exploring the fragmented memories of those who have disappeared. By locating traces of those lost memories, you can piece together entire lives. The designers are implementing something they’re calling “environmental storytelling,” in that paying close attention to your surroundings is actually a crucial part of the plot. You don’t run through this beautiful world; you absorb it.
One feature that hasn’t been explained is the role of time. We’ve heard it does have an impact on the gameplay and there are mysterious beams of golden light, which somehow affect our progress. We know there isn’t a time limit – which is a good thing – but there do appear to be day/night cycles and of course, when dealing with the concepts of mortality, time is always a factor. Another major part of the experience will be the music. We’ve heard wonderfully orchestrated classical pieces in the promo videos thus far, and Creative Director Dan Pinchbeck says it’s “one of the best game soundtracks ever created.” We have no doubt about that and we certainly don’t underestimate the importance of a great score in a sentimentally-charged, atmospheric production.
Whatever the “event” is that ended the lives of so many, bringing this once-quaint valley town to a complete standstill, it’s at the crux of the plot. As you wander about, you will catch spectral scenes of people talking and interacting with one another, and you’ll also come across radios and other clues. Over there, you might see a quarantine poster, for instance. Why did they need to quarantine people? Was a disease the catalyst for the “event?” These are just a few of the questions you will ask yourself many times over during the course of your adventure, which is precisely the point. Don’t expect any handholding or tutorials; this experience is all about exploration and cerebral connections. Love it.
It may seem odd to think an entire game could be based around the remnants of people’s lives. You might assume that it would get boring watching ghostly images interacting before you, playing out everyday scenes that, when mixed together, comprise the fantastically diverse tapestry that is life. As we don’t have any direct impact on these people’s lives and we’re merely secondhand viewers, it could be difficult to imagine this concept as a video game. I can already hear the naysayers: “Meh, this should’ve been a movie.” I’ve never understood that sentiment at all, though, as the instant I press one button, I feel connected to the experience. Besides, it’s entirely up to me how I progress and what I examine, so how is that a movie?
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is one of those games that should be savored and considered from all angles. It shouldn’t be rushed through at breakneck speed with the intent of solving the mystery as quickly as possible. You’re supposed to interact with the fallen, learn about the town and the people who once inhabited it, and become part of human history. Will you be a savior? Will you be a helpless observer? Or, will you have no impact on anything whatsoever, as your destiny is the same as those poor souls who have disappeared, and you’re simply waiting your turn? There’s no way to answer these questions unless you venture forth and sample the memories of dead. Wait, we don’t even know if they’re really dead…mystery abounds!
Come August 11, PS4 owners with curious minds and a penchant for sentimentality should definitely give this one a shot.