Published Aug 11, 2015The quaint British village of Yaughton in the Shropshire countryside has been abandoned. You don't know why. Well, the game title provides a hint, but there is no other information immediately offered. You don't know who your avatar is, why they are still there or even the date, though technology like the chunky mobile phones, transistor radios and Commodore 64 indicate the mid '80s. There's no guidance, just your first-person view of a disquietingly photorealistic village devoid of its villagers.
Mostly devoid, anyway. The missing villagers have somehow left echoes of themselves behind, and while wandering about you somehow encounter these echoes — seen as sparkles of light in the vague shape of people, and streaks of light that lead you to said sparkles — and overhear their conversations.
Some are revelations seemingly related to the mass disappearance: "Force them to order the strike!"; "It's using the observatory to reach us!"; "It's in the phone!" But they're initially lacking the context that might make them make sense. Others are just audible insights into the lives lived there before they weren't there anymore; they're deeply personal conversations that seem banal, but provide a glimpse of what was lost.
Other clues also abound: posters on a message board for an emergency town meeting to find out about the flu, quarantine and "What they're not telling us"; flyers that warn about the local observatory; locked houses with ominous quarantine signs on the doors that read, "Do not attempt to leave, you will be detained." Then there was that book left open on a lounge chair: The Voice of the Stars. These are all seemingly connected. On the other hand, the graffiti that reads "Derek you massive dickhead wanker" probably isn't. But what about that raffle poster? "Could your number be up?"
And so you keep wandering. There's an abandoned bedroll and books lying askew on the grass. A car with the doors wide open. An uneaten picnic beside an empty tent. When people disappeared it must have happened instantaneously. Everything else stayed, though. Though the ambient soundtrack swells with emotional orchestration at times, it often takes a backseat, letting the sound of no civilization — chirping crickets, tweeting birds — provide the score. Oh, and then there are those strange radio broadcasts of numbers.
And so you keep searching for an answer, slowly.
For all its mystery, uniqueness, incredible voice acting and intricate beauty — I could stare at its starry, starry night skies forever — the game has its problems. The most glaring is the pace of your walk, which is barely increased by the hidden running mechanic. It's an intentional game design decision to make you take your time exploring, but indie studio the Chinese Room give their impatient audience too much credit, especially when we just want to hop on that bike we found and hightail it across town.
They give our brains minds too much credit, too. With no way in-game to catalogue the spectral conversations we encounter or mark the areas we've already explored, it becomes challenging to process the story. And the story is all that matters here.
The rise of interactive fiction, sparked by the Chinese Room's own PC hit Dear Esther, has also sparked predictable arguments about whether or not these are "games." Boldly, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture doesn't even abide by tenuous game mechanic ties. It's not a choose-your-own-adventure or a point-and-click, aside from being able to click open doors or click on radios. You literally just walk around looking for snippets of their sci-fi-meets-spirituality story.
But that's the rub — it's a meta game and the puzzle, which you must piece together in your own head, is the non-linear narrative itself. Still, for all its frustrations, Rapture remains a revelation. (The Chinese Room / SCE Santa Monica)