Has a British country village ever been so lovingly constructed in virtual form? Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a paean to community values, viewed through the lens of a John Wyndham-esque science fiction yarn.
Dropped into the Shropshire, players find themselves exploring an entirely abandoned town in the 1980s. Guided by cryptic radio messages, they are advised to ‘follow the light’, a tip that would be more startling were it less literal. Luminescent balls of light, it turns out, are our guides; they appear over points of interest, taking us on a leisurely tour of this Edenic locale.
The much-cited label ‘walking simulator’ is outrageously reductive, a facile and troglodytic idiocy. This is a deliberately-paced piece of interactive fiction, and its pacing is slow for a reason. Players wander around the valley at the speed of a real walker, and as they do so encounter reconstructed scenes from before the disappearances. Broadly divided between the lives of some primary characters, these vignettes create a gradually stitched-together quilt of a story.
By its conclusion, if players have been careful, a coherent and unsettling narrative has been constructed, and the game’s marvellous tone lingers in the memory. From the start the entire map, stretched beyond its actual size by the enforced languor of exploration, is accessible to players. Perhaps Rapture’s most impressive trick is the manner in which it uses its light-guides to coax players along the route it desires, rather than simply ambling absently from building to building.
Though traceable lights to guide players may sound prescriptive, in motion they are often barely glimpsed, far in the distance and zipping from place to place. Each time a new flashback is discovered feels like a small achievement, a piece of deduction, and developers The Chinese Room should be applauded for their gentle touch on this front.
The tales witnessed are of village life disrupted by curious illness, and extraordinarily British. Regional accents, conservative values and elderly sniping abound, and though the script can at times lean into the hackneyed, its cast of voice actors do a generally impressive job of lending depth to their roles. This is more impressive given that we never see their faces, their expressions or their bodies at all, merely witnessing shimmering remnants of their forms. A rising and falling classical soundtrack exploits moments of emotion even further.
Rapture’s success is brought home by its beautifully realised environment. Its models, from red post boxes to pub signs and variously ugly and quaint British homes, cars and gardens are well-observed. Its lighting, however, is the real star. As day shifts into night, back to dusk, around to dawn and every other hour between, The Chinese Room use light to impact mood incredibly savvily.
The opening moments’ crisp sunshine is uniquely authentic in virtual worlds, and the contrast to wide starscapes and unnatural sunsets later in the game is stirring. This is a game to be savoured, telling an enjoyable story in a freeform and rewarding manner, and its visual excellence elevates it further.