Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is an interactive piece of art that's fully driven by a narrative experience that you can unearth in a completely non-linear order, making it also one of the harder stories to "get." I don't consider it a game.
Three years ago we got to interview The Chinese Room about Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and while the 'game' they described is seemingly intact, it does sound like some parts were definitely changed. For one, they stated that it will control far closer to an FPS over Dear Esther, the developer's earlier title, and will allow players to sprint, crawl and jump. That's definitely no longer the case. The world is now explored at a liesurely (read: slow) pace, with the only other control given to the player is an interact button that can open and close doors, flip light switches, and turn on various electronics such as radios and phones. Speaking of the player, it's unclear whether you're human, or just another ghostly being, but given the attention to detail that Chinese Room has put in the environment, it seems like a big clue that you don't have legs, arms or even a shadow.
Fans who played and enjoyed Dear Esther for what it was, will probably find a lot to love about Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, since the two are extremely similar. The one difference Rapture has on its linear predecessor is the rather massive town of Yaughton, which can be freely explored right from the beginning.
As you explore the empty town, you'll come across various glowing orbs of light that will weave a narrative around the characters that once lived in the town, and try to explain what happened. When you find them, you will watch scenes act out between them and slowly learn more about their interweaving relationships. Paradoxically, for a title that has no actual other characters in it, it does an incredible job at making the "memories" you come across feel extremely human. These all feel like real people that you may know in real life, and possibly even connect with on a more personal level. By the time you get halfway through, you feel like you know the characters on a more deeper level. It's definitely a testament to the writing.
This is one of those instances where you'll have to truly pay attention to all the spoken dialogue, as there is no way to replay any of the scenes after they finished. At first it was difficult to keep up with all the various names that were thrown at me, and even harder remembering that this person is married to her, and that lady is that person's mother, and these two people might be having an affair. There is no database of characters either, so if you really want an easier way of keeping track of who all these characters are, I recommend jotting them down on a piece of paper. It's not crucial to your enjoyment, but it might make things easier early on when a bunch of new names start appearing.
I suspect that the glowing orb of light that guides you to various important locations must have been added at some point after our interview. While it does make it somewhat feel more linear, you're still given complete freedom to walk off the beaten path and uncover some side events that help flesh out the characters even more. It's a good way to keep you on task though, and never just aimlessly wandering around.
The town of Yaughton is not only gorgeous to walk through, but it's one of the most believable locations I've ever digitally visited. Outside of the gorgeously detailed houses and scenery thanks to the CryEngine, there are also small, personal touches that add to the overall believability that this was a town that once had life in it. Bulletin boards have upcoming town events stapled on them, pubs have their specials scribbled on blackboards, work schedules are jotted out completely across different offices. It's so believably real that you might think Rapture serves a secondary purpose of promoting tourism to the lovely county of Shropshire.
The sound design and soundtrack are also absolutely incredible, and it certainly heightened some of the more emotional moments you come across. If there's a soundtrack ever available to purchase, it's definitely making its way to my iTunes.
When it's all said and done though, I walked away from Rapture unsatisfied. Despite the fantastic characterization of the people you "meet" during your travels across Yaughton, the story itself never really clicked for me. There's a running joke in our GameZone office when we don't like a game or a movie, the question that follows is "but did you understand the plot?" In this case, I can admit that I didn't. I know what happened to the residents on a surface level, but I'm not sure how the supernatural elements fit in.
It's tough because I can't discuss any of the story elements because they would contain spoilers, and since Rapture is 100% about story, it makes it hard to critique. The developers were also so paranoid on spoiler reveals that the review code we've been given has been stripped of any trophies. Suffice to say I wasn't all that impressed with the closure, or lack thereof. However, I know that many gamers like open-ended conclusions like that, so not everyone will feel the same way I do.
However, my biggest takeaway from seeing live reviews and the subsequent comments, is that readers might just be looking at the score, and thinking it's the next big game they must play. I'm not sure if that's the case. That's why I've decided to keep my review without a score. It's very important to know what kind of experience to expect from Rapture as it's definitely not for everyone. If you're curious enough, you can still snatch it up today (8/10) for a discount. If you've missed it and you're familiar with titles like Dear Esther, or like the idea of titles like Dear Esther, then Everybody's Gone to the Rapture should be right up your alley. Just don't expect the plot to be spoonfed to you.