Wot I Think: Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture [official site] is The Chinese Room’s newly-on-PC game about exploring an English village in the hopes of finding out where everyone’s get to. I played it when it came out on PS4 a while back but I’ve just worked my way through the PC version and can now tell you Wot I Think:

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture won’t quite come together in my head as a unified experience. It has all of these moments of real loveliness and effectiveness but also, for me, there’s an undercurrent of intense frustration brought about through the interaction systems and slight disconnect between story and environment.

Let’s start with what the game actually is.

The story begins near an observatory on the outskirts of the Shropshire village of Yaughton. The village is empty – a kind of English countryside Mary Celeste – but you seem to be able to tap into echoes of the events that triggered the absences. Radios offer diary-like snippets, phones play out older phone conversations, motes of light coalesce to present a few seconds from key events as a kind of supernatural slideshow.

Further exploration takes you on a circuit of the Yaughton area and through the lives of particular villagers – that’s how the game divides into chapters, it moves from person to person. The knowledge accumulates and you reveal relationships and their undercurrents as well as the reasons for the disappearances.

The main mode of interaction is walking and clicking. You walk through the areas and trigger the majority of the light-show story snippets just by passing nearby. A mother berates her children for poking at the dead birds in the park, a concerned villager remarks on the presence of people with guns, a local vicar tries to persuade a new arrival to the village to come to church.

You can click on some of the doors to open them and gain access to houses or rooms or gates to let you into fields and gardens. If you find a radio tuned to a numbers station you can click that to get it to spit out one of those diary/confessional fragments, while clicking a ringing phone will dispense the contents of a prior call.

You’ll also encounter balls of light which you need to activate for key parts of the main plot. You do this by right-clicking and then dragging the cursor left or right until you find a sweet spot. It’s a fiddly interaction and I found that it kept interrupting the flow of story, although I’d found it worse on PS4 as you had to sort of waggle the controller and use the motion sensor to find the sweet spot. (You can shift the difficulty of these encounters in the accessibility options menu if you’re really struggling, though as well as opting for visual help with audio cues and turning on a crosshair if you’re getting motion sick.)

There’s another ball of light which zooms around the space as a kind of celestial tour guide, although I will admit that I found it a bit opaque at first and treated it as an optional thing, wandering around on my own.

You can do that – it’s a perfectly valid way to play – but you might find that in doing so you miss some of those click-to-trigger chunks of story. That becomes important because if you don’t trigger enough of those you don’t get the emotional set-piece ending to each person’s chapter, you just drift onwards leaving agitated and confusing balls in your wake.That’s what I did in the first chapter before realising what was happening in the second.

Here’s where I am with the game. The story itself is decent. It’s a kind of seventies-feeling British sci-fi radio play. The basic premise – disappearances and a mysterious infection that the authorities swear blind is a kind of Spanish flu – isn’t unfamiliar but I do think it’s well executed and I would happily listen to it all over again. I would also listen to the soundtrack all over again as it’s absolutely gorgeous. In fact I’ve got it playing on Spotify right now.

But what I wouldn’t do out of choice is play the game again and that’s because, while it’s capable of delighting or creating these moody, intimate moments, it’s also capable of frustrating and irritating. It was so hard to maintain my immersion.

My biggest problem was the movement. You walk around the environment as you explore but the pace is so SLOW. You can speed up a bit by holding shift but it didn’t seem to work consistently for me and when it did it work it wasn’t a run, more that it brought you up to the pace I felt was appropriate for the space in the first place. I want to be clear that I’m not complaining that you can’t sprint round Yaughton like Sebastian Coe. That would be weird.

What I am getting at is that the space is big enough that the default pace felt wrong to me. It took too long to get to the next house or across a playpark or from one end of a field to another. I found myself playing the entire game holding shift just to try and normalise the movement for myself, and the points where it won’t let you move faster than the default offered up that impatient irritation I associate with being stuck walking on a narrow pavement behind someone going far slower than you when you really want to get somewhere.

The slow walking also combined with another little problem to work against the idea of exploration. So, you know how I told you that you can open doors in the game? Well, you can open some doors and not others and there is no reliable way of knowing which will and won’t open. Some are ajar and you can generally get through those, but other times you’ll find yourself in a house and some of the inner doors will open and others won’t. Similarly you can be in a garden and walk over to a gate, having breezed through identical gates previously, only to find this particular gate is locked, forcing you to trudge back slowly.

Both the walking pace and the door unreliability are little things but it meant that exploration was more something I had to push myself to keep doing rather than an easy and pleasurable thing. You might end up just following the light ball around instead which seems a shame given there’s this whole world to look at.

With that in mind, let’s talk about that world. It’s a joy to see something so ridiculously British in a game when I’m so used to seeing either America or fantasy landscapes. I mean, look at this. Do you know what it is?

It’s a fire hydrant sign. A British fire hydrant sign. None of that red metal cactus nonsense they have going on in the States.

And look at this!

COW PARSLEY. That stuff was EVERYWHERE in my own rural village.


A public phone booth with an area code from before we added a 1 after the zero. I’m a child of the British 1980s and this is a thing I remember and have never seen in a game before.

There’s value to seeing art assets that are based in something you know from real life experience rather than a multimedia experience of pan-global Americana. And then you get views like this. They’re absolutely stunning and remind me of strands of British landscape painting.

But even then the game falls down a bit. Not in the landscape moments or the wonder of a night sky or anything, but in the homes. To me they never felt lived-in. They’re show homes, with a few narratively-relevant assets dotted around. They’re too clean and too generic. The only one which felt really lived in belonged to a farmer and it was because it was a mess. The others tend to have the same few book styles lying around, the same kinds of art on the walls, the same bare kitchens, the same kinds of flower arrangements.

Here’s the farmer one for a comparison:

I get that that stuff is a big ask and a drain on resources, but for me the basic sterility of a lot of the “homes” caused a disconnect between the scenarios I was seeing in these motes of light and the world in which the game was telling me they had taken place. The light world just didn’t quite feel linked to the physical world and it often felt more human than this weird, emotionless set of very British show houses.

Having reached the end I’m still feeling that disconnect. There were moments where I found myself moved or excited or curious but they were balanced out by this feeling that I was pushing myself through the interactions and sometimes seeing the seams of the world, the bits where it was a game and I was in my room, not ensconced in the unfolding mystery.

It was British in so many ways that I hadn’t seen before in a game, from the art assets to the peculiarly village-y sniping and busybodying and threatening to write to a local MP. I loved that that side existed and that other people will see it too. But the story felt like work to experience. The best way I can think to sum up this feeling is to say I enjoyed Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture far more on PS4 and that was because after the first chapter I lay on the sofa watching and listening and luxuriating while my companion dealt with the controls.

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  1. GallonOfAlan says:

    It is indeed great for once to see modern European environments. This is one of the reasons I liked Half-Life 2 when it came out – the somewhere-central-European feel rather than the usual US or exotic settings.

    • Coming Second says:

      That felt like such a novel setting at the time, I remember that.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      I always loved the Stalker games for the same reason.

    • unit 3000-21 says:

      Yeah, Half Life 2 has no equal when it comes to rust streaked concrete and post-soviet tower blocs.

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      zapatapon says:

      It might the single reason why I love HL2 so much.

  2. Llewyn says:

    That slow movement would drive me to despair. Hopefully at some point there will be a fix for it, whether official or not, but until then I’m grateful for the warning.

    One thing that bugs me, as a child of the 70s, is that lots of things in the screenshots I see just don’t quite feel right for 1984. I’m absolutely fine with generic American/Russian/fantasy environments as I have only limited reference points, but Rapture just prompts a huge uncanny-valley-like feeling in me.

    • Llewyn says:

      Also Pip, on the subject of 70s radio sci-fi plays and their atmosphere, did you perhaps have in mind Wally Daly’s Before the Screaming Begins?

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Really? What kind of things? I think I’m only about halfway through, but in general I’m really impressed with the rural 80s-ness of it all. It feels a lot like my grandparents’ village, if it had been slightly less suburban.

      The only thing that’s irritatingly wrong is the luggage. I’ve found one suitcase that feels period appropriate. The rest is all way too modern.

  3. OrangyTang says:

    A review that very much matches my experience with the game. Apologists will say ‘but walking speed and door unreliability are such petty things to complain about’, but they’re about the only interaction I get with the world, so they’re super important. It’d be like an FPS game with one gun, and that one gun was terrible.

    Mostly I had this gnawing feeling at the back of my brain asking “Is this really the best medium for this story?”. Because I’m a big fan of John Wyndham’s books, of which this story owes quite a big debt. But it doesn’t really do anything that justifies being told in video game / walking simulator form. Unlike, say, The Stanley Parable, where the story and interactivity both riff off each other and support each other. Here it seems like the story telling and ‘game’ bits sit uncomfortably with each other, both diminished by the other’s awkward presence.

    • Geebs says:

      For all the bitching about Wyndham’s “cosy catastrophes”, if someone made a proper game adaptation of Day of the Triffids it would basically be DayZ.

      • OrangyTang says:

        Oh yes – Day Of The Triffids is probably one of the least cozy in that respects. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture feels much closer to The Midwitch Cuckcoos for me in tone, but less well pulled off.

        Although if we’re talking adaptations, The Chrysalids would make for a very different take on post-apocalyptic exploration.

      • Sin Vega says:

        That whole “cosy catastrophe” attack on Wyndham’s work was always bullshit, frankly, and struck me as a simple lack of imagination or appreciation for understated prose. “Cosy catastrophe”, like witnessing multiple suicides and murders, seeing an entire settlement die in agony to a mysterious disease (including a young woman who asks you to kill her because she can’t do it herself), helpless crowds of people blinded and slaughtered, a self-imposed military dictatorship taking away your children.

        Or watching helpless people snagged by adhesive harpoons then slowly dragged into a crushed sphere of struggling, screaming human flesh and cracking bones, then dragged under the sea (possibly AFTER having a limb pulled off). Or having your children dragged out of your house in the middle of the night, forcibly, surgically sterilised, and then cast into the woods to fend for themselves. Or being psychically/empathically linked with several children who are tortured for days before going mysteriously silent, while you try to deliver your infant sister from the same fate.

        All cosy, like.

        • jbb060 says:

          Getting a little off-topic, but could you recommend any of his books? I was uninspired by The Kraken Wakes but really enjoyed R4’s adaptation of The Day of the Triffids a few years ago

          • Sin Vega says:

            Day of the Triffids is good, but The Chryssalids is severely underrated and I think overall probably my favourite. I also rate his short stories, The Seeds of Time is a good collection with some great ideas.

  4. teppic says:

    I’ll probably pick this up, just for scenery and landscapes if nothing else. I really like it when games do realistic environments outside of the USA. Since it’s a PC release, hopefully there will be a mod that can increase movement speed even if the devs won’t introduce it.

  5. Heliocentric says:

    Short version: “Go watch someone play it on YouTube”, gotcha!

  6. rcguitaristtwo says:

    If i had to live in england i would hope i would disappear and go to the rapture too.

  7. Tomo says:

    I absolutely adored Rapture, right down to the slow walking pace. It forced you to absorb absolutely everything in the environments.

    I think it’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. Perhaps because so much of it was familiar from my childhood too. Now I live in the city, it’s a virtual way of accessing the countryside I love so much. The visuals are so luscious you can pretty much taste the air and smell the cow shit.

    I also loved how it was basically two games for me – one, piecing together the sci-fi and the other was learning about the lives of everyone in a village where everyone knows everybody’s business. Again, that aspect perfectly captured country bumpkin life, where the most trivial dramas are gossiped about by the middle-aged.

    What else. It’s repeatedly tinged with deep sadness. There are so many incidental moments where you stumble upon clues in the scenery only for it to dawn on your that something terrible has occurred. The soundtrack is astonishing, absolutely beautiful and really elevates the game. It’s also a great game to play couch co-op, as you’ll probably struggle to keep up with the names of everyone – piecing the story together is a real puzzle!

    It’s just brilliant. I loved it to bits.

    • Simon_Scott says:

      ** SOME SPOILERS **

      Yeah, I kind of took the walking speed as a demand the game was making on me and accepted it for what it was. I think you *have* to slow it down.

      That said, I was a bit upset to learn at the end that I’d missed stuff, and that once the credits roll you aren’t dumped back in Yaughton to vacuum up the rest of it, so I’d have to start over – even going back to the last save point isn’t enough, because by then you’re locked off from the rest of the village.

      Perhaps arising from that, too, who the hell was I supposed to be? The ending suggests that “it” got out of Yaughton and took all of humanity but if it did, then what was I supposed to be? And what did the menus mean? I’m sure the story wasn’t supposed to be about me, but it became the mermaid’s nipples of the game. You show the nipples and then move on, you don’t try and hide them, because otherwise people are just going to spend the whole time staring at her chest. Metaphorically. And it seemed the wrong sort of game for a body-less player character with audible footsteps.

      Lastly, those old-school phoneboxes were giving me major olfactory flashbacks. I could smell them! The things we have lost.

      But overall, wow, loved it. :)

  8. Setheran says:

    As a Brit who’s been living in America for the last 7 years, I enjoyed the relatively authentic Englishness of the game too. On top of the types of plants and other visual details, I noticed familiar bird calls as well, and it all made me a little bit homesick. Not that my home town is anywhere near as spacious and picturesque as Yaughton, though.

    I coped with the slow movement speed by just using the time to look closely at everything I was passing by, and try to soak up the atmosphere a bit. Definitely not a game I’d sit down to play unless I had a lot of free time, but I did find it a good one to sit down to with some headphones on and enjoy a bit of escapism.

    The soundtrack is really something, too. One or two of the tracks towards the end still give me goosebumps.

  9. TheAngriestHobo says:

    ” So, you know how I told you that you can open doors in the game? Well, you can open some doors and not others and there is no reliable way of knowing which will and won’t open.”

    To be fair, this is the case in real life, too.

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      teije says:

      And then people get so angry with me when I try to open those recalcitrant doors using the prybar in my inventory. Odd.

      • Ragnar says:

        As well they should. Who do you think you are, Gordon Freeman?

        Why aren’t you using lock picks like a civilized person?

    • brucethemoose says:

      But in real life, people give you funny looks if go around trying to test doors.

      That would be an AWESOME game mechanic, btw… In every game I’ve played, people either ignore you or try to murder you for trespassing, but nothing in between.

      • Aninhumer says:

        Blood Money did this well. There were quite a lot of lower security areas where the guards would just shout at you if they found you.

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        yhancik says:

        When you were caught trespassing in Mortville Manor, there was just a sentence appearing that made the situation feel a bit awkward. And I think it was also raising a bit the “tension” level. Or something.

    • Sic says:

      I found this criticism to be exceedingly odd as well.

      Yes, some doors are locked. That’s how the world works, both in real life, and in games.

      • Geebs says:

        It’s OK for exterior doors to be locked, but inexplicably-locked interior doors in somebody’s home are kinda suspicious.

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        Thirith says:

        It’s still bad design – especially in combination with the walking speed. People will think twice about walking down a corridor and trying every door if it’s basically arbitrary as to which ones open and which ones don’t. You don’t need to make it blatantly obvious in a way that buggers up the coherence of the game world, but there are subtle, subliminial ways in which you can indicate it to the player.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Your parents obviously didn’t pick the master key for you when you were born.

  10. Sic says:

    I didn’t mind the walking speed at all, but I think it might be because I played it with a few friends.

    We were constantly discussing the characters, and piecing together the story, so the walking was just something you sort of did in the background.

    I haven’t replayed it alone, and I guess it’s not too far fetched to think that I might find the pace somewhat slow the second time around. Then again, I’m not too sure. I spent 6 hours on my first playthrough of Firewatch, and I felt I was rushing it.

  11. draglikepull says:

    It’s a gorgeous looking game, but it was so frustratingly obtuse that I couldn’t get all the way through it. The worst thing I recall is the save system: there’s no manual save, but the auto-saves are apparently reaaaaaaally far apart. I lost about 45 minutes of playing the first time I turned it off because apparently in the hour or so I’d played it had only saved once, fairly early on. At that point I couldn’t be bothered any more. I can abide a game that’s obscure in its story, but not in its basic functionality.

  12. BellisBlueday says:

    I live in Shropshire, and never thought I’d see a game related to my own home! I’ve only played an hour or so, but I’m getting a real kick out of the attention to detail (Shropshire Magazine with a story about The Wrekin)

    Yaughton doesn’t doesn’t represent an actual place, but seems to be drawing inspiration and names from all over the county – eg. there is a Yorton and a Stiperstones (the latter is not a diocese though) The village does kind of look like it could be here

    My impression so far is along the lines ‘A game made by Radio 4’

  13. bill says:

    I know the whole point is that it looks lovely, but how far down can we scale the graphics if we have a crappy old PC?

    I’d rather like to play this, and not watch it on youtube before someone suggests it, but there’s no way my PC is running those landscapes unless I can drop the graphics to ultra-low.

  14. aoakley says:

    Stunningly beautiful, and a pretty accurate representation of Shropshire (where I’m from), with one major exception… If there were a game set in London but it had Brummie accents, everyone would complain. If it were set in Glasgow but had Liverpudlian accents, everyone would complain. But if it’s set in Shropshire and has a strange mix of Cornish and Suffolk accents? Yeah, I’m from Shropshire so I’m more sensitive than others on this, but the accents aren’t just out by a little bit, they’re out by pretty much the entire length and breadth of England. They’re accents from the other side of the country. If you want to know what a Shropshire accent sounds like – specifically one from near the Stiperstones and Ludlow area where the game is set – listen to comedienne Jo Brand. Everything about this game is wonderful apart from the voice acting, which sounds like Mummerset rejects from The Archers. It especially grating given that every other area of the game is so rich in detail. It jolts me right out of the game. Oh, and another thing, why is the vicar referred to as “Father”? It’s Shropshire. There are no villages with Catholic churches, they’re all Church of England plus a few Methodists. The vicar’s title is “Vicar”. I can forgive this, though, as I suspect the word “vicar” isn’t well known to an international audience and they needed a a word which conveyed priesthood. But please, if you’re going to make grand claims about Salopian accuracy, get the accent right to within at least a couple of counties. Welsh would have been closer (literally).