The term "walking simulator" has often been used as a pejorative, but it might just be my new favorite genre. Like Gone Home before it, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is a game with no action or combat. There really aren't even puzzles to solve—at least not in the traditional sense. However, the five-or-so hours I spent exploring its idyllic English countryside were some of my most memorable gaming moments in 2015.
At its core, Rapture is an interactive, visual mystery. You are dropped in an abandoned English village near a suspicious observatory and are set loose to explore it. The story is told in a variety of ways: recorded dialogue on phones and radios, written notes, and ghostly "memories" that play out scenes from the past with swirls of golden light standing in for the former inhabitants. You'll also pick up on visual clues based on items left in the environment.
And, really, that's it. You will spend the entire game walking through five main areas: the town, the church, the summer camp, the farm, and the observatory. The narrative (or as much of a narrative as this game has) follows six characters, using their names as chapter breaks that help give the player a sense of progression. Otherwise, though, this is an experience that lets each person go at their own pace to unravel and decipher just what exactly happened in this now-deserted community.
The views you'll find throughout the game are, in a word, stunning. Environments are rich with detail, light and shadow effects give the world a soul, and the architectural design gives real visual weight to the surprisingly large map. Despite the size of the game, the developers were able to design each area in such a way that you're able to instantly identify your general location by the types of buildings around you (and, in some cases, even the weather). Even without the story, this is beautiful and interesting area to simply explore.
But, of course, there is a story to uncover, and I enjoyed the freedom to experience it at my own pace. While there is definitely a predetermined sequence of areas (and, thus, events) to the story, you're allowed a good deal of non-linearity because the story bits are told based on triggers at certain locations.
For example, you might decide to investigate that house off in the distance before the two nearer to you, but I might decide to check out the pub first and then wander into the park and check out an abandoned car. Thankfully, though, the game is smart enough to allow for this, meaning you won't ever really be spoiling anything: each bit of the story you'll discover are just crumbs of a larger whole that you'll spend time pondering and piecing together.
Honestly, even after I finished the game, I was still trying to make sense of a few details and bits of the timeline (I recommend checking out Kirk Hamilton's piece over on Kotaku, "What The Heck Happened In Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture? A Guide." after you play it). There are a few bits of the story that don't quite work: one memory in particular involves an uncharacteristic and unnecessary murder, for example. Mostly, though, the excellent voiceover work and believable dialogue help convincingly sell this sci-fi mystery.
In terms of exploration, you can really only walk (and, less obviously, run). While that's fine most of the time, I did find myself occasionally wishing for a puzzle or two to break up the pace. Additionally, there is almost no environmental interaction (other than opening gates and doors and triggering audio cues). It's disappointing that you can go in so many houses but can't do a whole lot in them other than do a quick check of each room for a big clue.
For anyone expecting a Shenmue level of drawer-opening action, you'll have to look elsewhere, as the rooms are mainly static environments. This wasn't a major detractor, but it did occasionally make me feel like the world was a bit too "look, but don't touch." Of course, for the completionist, you can earn trophies for finding every story event, playing every radio, and so on.
Despite trying to be very thorough during my play-through, I didn't find everything, yet I was content to let the credits role without spending extra hours hunting down every single "collectible." There is enough overlap of certain key story events (without being repetitive) that the game ensures the majority of players will get the crucial details without needing to go overboard.
Without spoiling the plot, suffice it to say that things get weirder as you go. Culminating in the Valis Observatory, the story's climactic ending helps piece together some of the mysteries surrounding the main protagonist's actions throughout the rest of the story. It's a satisfying conclusion that answers many, but not all, of the questions raised. While you're able to get a good sense of what happened to each of the characters, you'll be left to ponder the true source of what's caused everyone to go to the eponymous rapture, as well as the potential implications for the rest of the world.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture may not be for, well, everybody; but it's absolutely worth giving a shot if you have any interest in mysteries or the evolution of "games" as an interactive storytelling medium. While not built around choice and quick-time events, like Heavy Rain or Until Dawn, the free-roaming environmental storytelling is one of a handful of games in this new exploration-focused genre that certainly kept me enraptured. Even without puzzles, combat, or really any sort of interactivity beyond movement, the thoughtful, non-linear, and well-constructed narrative gives the player much to consider even after the story ends.
Consider this a don't-miss experience if you have PlayStation 4.
Note: While this doesn't really impact the in-game experience, I recommend reading this blog post by Jessica Curry, co-head of developer The Chinese Room detailing her negative experience with publisher Sony while developing the game.