Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
With its soaring elegiac score and beautifully detailed environment, you can be forgiven for describing Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture through poetry. It is in Eliot’s “Hollow Men,” after all, that we learn that the end of the world comes not with a bang, but a whimper.
Rapture is that whimper, recreated in the fictional town of Yaughton, Shropshire. Eliot’s “Hollow Men” isn’t the only immediate literary reference that springs to mind during your gradual introduction to Rapture’s picturesque lanes and public footpaths. Yaughton also telegraphs the sinister coziness of Agatha Christie’s infamous St. Mary Mead remixed with elements of John Wyndham’s unique brand of pastoral science-fiction. Village homes boast comforting British tidiness in the form of floral wallpaper and gleaming sinks, front doors left ajar as if the occupant had simply stepped out for a moment. In the pub, half-smoked cigarettes still smolder and turn to ash underneath a dartboard paused in the middle of a never-to-be finished game. Advertisements for the annual church fete and village production of Peter Pan – a sweet bit of foreshadowing to the importance of stars to this unfolding story – appear on bulletin boards and shop windows next to official council notices that Yaughton is under quarantine.
The objective of Rapture is simply to explore Yaughton and to discover, if possible, why everyone in the town vanished. The role of your first-person character is intentionally ambiguous and you move through the world with no hint as to who – or what – you are. “Only your eyes are unclosed,” Dylan Thomas wrote, “to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep.” Only Yaughton isn’t asleep – it’s undone.
You are not alone on this journey, however. Should you choose to follow, a frenetic comet of golden light will blaze a trail for you to points of interests that trigger audio events. During these events, dead-voiced villagers made of ghost light act out a scene from Yaughton’s recent past, gradually shaping a narrative of the town’s final days. Additional clues and information can be obtained through careful exploring. You can also eavesdrop on the departed through radios and telephones, and by “tuning” static balls of light. Other auditory clues – ambient noise, changes in the score – help you navigate through the world. Rapture is an odyssey in the truest sense of the word; a spiritual wandering, a loose collective of experiences designed to impart knowledge.
Yaughton and its surroundings are divided into six organic sections, which in turn use one of six villagers as a narrative driver. It’s difficult to discuss the story without revealing too much. The journey isn’t linear, and unravels in the space of moments that took places either months or minutes before “the event.” There’s little danger, only urgency. The village that began as bright and curiously welcoming in its desertion grows darker and more claustrophobic as the game progresses. Voyeur to the doom of others, you can only following the light; not to the second star on the right, but to an empty café or to another ringing phone.
Rapture is an experience that shatters the myth of closure, so it is not surprising that players are offered little of their own. There’s no neat ending or “aha” moment, and several important, nagging questions remain unanswered. Still, I was disappointed in the last two chapters, which were clearly designed to deliver an emotional if not explanatory payout. The sections narrated by Jeremy, Wendy, and Lizzie stand out for their narrative richness and the way that their stories unfold through beautifully designed elements of the physical environment. By contrast, the game’s conclusion felt under-developed, sparse. I ended the game with a slight sting of unfairness for my tortured patience.
Despite this disappointment, it is incredibly exciting to experience a game that uses subtle, ordinary elements to create an extraordinary atmosphere. The legibility of emotions and feelings that we strongly associate with place – longing, alienation, belonging, displacement, and nostalgia – is what sets Rapture apart to me, and drives the game’s most poignant moments. It made me remember my own emotions living in a place not unlike Yaughton and my frenzy to escape — not the end of the world, but intense feelings of outsider-ness that also find resonance in the game. At the same time, Rapture also tapped into my own secret and sometimes longing for a universe without other people. Sense of place – what the Romans called genius loci – is so overwhelming in Rapture it might well be the game’s seventh character, the one that you inhabit as the player. Thousands of years ago genius loci referred not to the place itself, but to its guardian spirits – the supernatural personification of a location’s values or character; its environmental energies, often revealed by light.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a PS4 exclusive game from British developer Chinese Room.