By Alec Meer on January 15th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.
Its full name being ‘The Rapture Is Here And You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home‘, but there’s about as much chance as that fitting into our post title space as there is my being clean shaven for any reason except a funeral. It’s an exploration game, created by one Connor Sherlock (and what a fabulous name that is), set during an unspecified end of the world event. You have twenty minutes to do what you will. Then everything ends.
It’s a little bit amazing.
True story – I was about to criticise this end-of-the-world Going For A Walk game for being a trifle too purple of prose, before finally bothering to read the email about it properly and realising all the dialogue is taken directly from Lovecraft tales. A rose by any other name, and all that.
This also caused my sum feelings about the game to rapidly adjust themselves, now seem through the lens of fond tribute to otherworldly menace, rather than primarily a concerted attempt to be arch and confusing. I’m sure a more painstaking gaming archaeologist than I would assemble more implied truths and meanings from their time exploring a starkly beautiful outdoor world in search of narrative fragments, while perhaps fleeing from or perhaps guiding an enormous, possibly malign or possibly benign, unidentified flying object that slowly descends towards this prettily shattered world. I, chose, however, to treat it as an experiment in atmosphere, and even before my about-face on the cut-up, out-of-order diary entries, I thought TRIHAYWBFRFYH an almost unqualified success in that regard.
(The ‘almost’ refers primarily to the distracting, sometimes mood-breaking effects of pop-up vegetation and fog; whether this is a limitation of the Unity engine or just of this particular take on it I do not know. But, y’know, free games- mustn’t't grumble).
While it’s an extremely visually striking game, much of this atmosphere stems from the soundtrack, which pings carefully and powerfully between utmost dread and eerily uplifting – a fine reflection of The Rapture both as a broader concept and as the dark, silhouetted, city-sized hovering lozenge that is its avatar here. In the truest meaning of the word, it is awesome. Is it the end, or is it our transport to something better? No answers are provided, no questions are directly posed – it’s all on the player to choose their interpretation and their reaction, whether to admire this looming emissary or to attempt to escape it.
(In either case, I implore you to make sure you play with shadows turned on in settings, for in their dramatic darkening of the land just behind your feet they’re vital for the sense of being pursued by something immense, implacable and impossible).
To return to the music, as well-realised and well-judged as it is there is a question mark over how effective the game would be without it. It would, indeed, have a little of the tech demo to it – a wander through some off-the-shelf foliage, heading to a series of coloured pillars to activate snippets of dialogue from those aforementioned Lovecraft tales. That’s all there is too it, though I reject such a factor being an accurate barometer of a game’s worth. Yes, for all the awe that thing in the sky elicits, the game would without music feel too empty, too without purpose, but lest that sound like criticism, please believe me when I say my point is just how effective and crucial a good soundtrack can be. In this case, the game very nearly is its soundtrack, and all the alien-tinged hope and terror it evokes.
Though the massive alien/celestial/divine/??? shape that dogs your every footstep certainly helps. It puts me in mind of the first footage of the XCOM remake which ultimately become poor, compromised, The Bureau, back when the idea of fighting, let alone defeating, that enormous transforming cube-creature seemed entirely impossible. This one hounds you, but it does so without pressure or violence. It’s just there, always. Pitiless or pitying? That’s for you to decide.
I’m so glad the time limit isn’t in any way apparent, that there’s no sense of urgency at all until the closing minutes, so you’re free to simply soak it all in, it sounds and its strangeness, its destabilising juxtaposition of the known and the unfathomable.
TRIHAYWBFRFYH is a free game which lasts twenty minutes (at which point an, as far as three plays have established to me, inescapable conclusion activates) but demands a couple more playthroughs – perhaps in search of answers you won’t find, perhaps to soak up more of its frightening yet faintly euphoric atmosphere. It’s rougher around the edges and much shorter on visual surprises than Dear Esther, but can certainly be filed alongside it and is to my mind very much a comparable accomplishment. Proteus too, in its juxtaposition of familiar nature with strange shapes. TRIHAYWBFRFYH is more dramatic than either, however. Perhaps that’s because it’s not really a quest for answers, or for relaxation: it is from start to finish an ending, or at least a coda after an unseen, apocalyptic conclusion.
It’s still the dialogue that complicates matters the most for me – even the realisation that these were familiar and respected words from a master of otherwordly menace doesn’t spare the cut-up (but well-performed) lines from feeling too arbitrary and too showy, threatening (but ultimately failing, I’m glad to say) to drag the game from affecting ambiguity and into hollow posturing. That said, their various threads are well-chosen, forever seeming to be somehow relevant to this event and what led to it, and they do lend a questing nature to proceedings. Also, that the game focuses on the solitude and eeriness of Lovecraft’s work rather than the outright horror and creepy-crawlies that videogames invariably go to when utilising his work makes it perhaps a truer homage than games with guns and blades.
Most of all, I must wholeheartedly recommend TRIHAYWBFRFYH as a mood and sound piece. Going For A Walk Games, whatever narrative affections they might also offer, strive to evoke the loneliness of the uninhabited world, and this one most certainly accomplishes that. The silent, impossibly large foe/friend/follower somehow serves to accentuate this solitude, even though its indefatigable presence means ever being alone is an impossibility.
It’s a rare thing for any game to sear images into the brain in this way, let alone do it at the same time as creating so powerful a mood of introspection, wonder and discomfort. For a first game, and a free one too, it’s attention-grabbing and beautiful stuff, and hopefully the herald of very great things to come from its developer. I strongly urge you to play this.
The Rapture Is Here And You Will Be Forcibly Removed From Your Home is out now, and free. Play in your browser, or download the standalone version, here. I’d strongly recommend doing the latter.