‘Show, don’t tell’.
It’s an important piece of advice when telling a story. If you give the audience the means to put together the information for themselves then they’ll experience those tiny moments of euphoria. The story will then resonate with them. Have somebody do that bit for them and explain each step and they will feel patronised and stupid no matter how detailed a world you’ve built up.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is a rare thing in a few regards. It’s probably the only game ever to be set in a Shropshire village and it’s a game that tries to suppress some of the standard video game mechanics we’ve come to know over the years in favour of story telling. There may well be things from outer space coming down to Earth but you won’t be shooting them at any point, in fact them seem fairly non-aggressive towards you all the way though. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture wants you to see the human drama going on in this small, English valley.
The town of Yaughton is mostly comprised of pubs, a church, a farm and some thatched cottages. About the only modern building is an observatory up on the hill, not far from where you begin the game. It’s in this building that two scientists, Kate and local man Steven, have discovered something heading our way. As the game begins there is no human life left in Yaughton at all. The village has all the signs of being cut off in an attempt to contain what they thought was an outbreak of influenza but doors are left open and cars sit in the middle of roads unlocked. The only life that remains are floating orbs of light which either show you the way to go or take the shape of human bodies in order to act out events that led up to all this. The 1980’s setting gives the game a definite feel of British sci-fi around that time, it’s very much like Peter Davison is about to step out of the TARDIS at any moment.
Great efforts have gone into giving Yaughton all the details from the time and making sure it’s a convincing setting. This is just as well because the actual walking speed of your character is glacial. Holding down R2 does build some speed and momentum but it’s not that far removed from the slow walking pace. The Chinese Room have made this place, they’re making damn sure you study it.
Despite being so well detailed there’s also very little you can actually do with anything you see in the village. Only some doors can be opened, those that can’t are usually signposted by a government poster or just generally locked. You can go into the local pubs but you cannot walk behind the bar. The local church is off limits as is the shop. Picking up items is impossible and doors open towards you often pushing you back as if you shouldn’t be there. Yaughton isn’t a place you inhabit, it’s a museum exhibit being shown to you.
Each section of the game focuses on one character and details their side of the narrative. There are two stories that reach over the whole thing, one being the invasion itself and the other being a love triangle between three residents of the village. Each time you see a globe of light in front of you there is a need to twist the controller at a certain angle to activate the cut scene. This is the most interactive thing Rapture does.
There are some wonderfully touching moments in the story. At one point you have an echo shown of a Mother who has taken shelter in one of the houses because her children and husband had become tired and were getting nosebleeds (an early sign of the ‘infection’). Her husband and the children had gone upstairs to rest but that was six hours ago and she’s too scared to go up and check on them. You go upstairs to see a room in which the beds have been disturbed and there are bloody tissues on the floor. This would seem a fair conclusion but the truth is you’ve seen the same tissues in the previous five houses and you’re well used to them by now. Before long every single one of these stories ends in the same way with you looking at blood stained tissues. It becomes repetitive to the point of you not really caring. The voice acting is of an extremely high quality and the orchestral soundtrack gives feeling and mood but when it’s attached to a story which continually repeats itself in this manner, which leads to the same conclusion each and every single time, it feels wasted.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture feels like it should be about exploration and finding a story out for yourself. The exploration element is stunted by the fact it takes forever to get anywhere. You might be able to see a building in the distance but walking there will take the best part of ten minutes and when you get there you’ll probably be presented with one cut scene and more bloody bloody tissues. You’re also not finding out anything for yourself instead being told about it by somebody else each and every single time. It’s possible to find radios and telephones that give some of the character’s conversation but it amounts to pressing a button to hear a short clip. You’ve arrived too late as all the good stuff happened when people were still here.
Games can tell good stories, we’ve surely reached the stage when this is a given now. Bioshock’s story was so effective because you were actually part of it, The Walking Dead’s story worked because you were shown human characters you could identify with and your decisions effected them. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture treats its players as mere bystanders to be dictated to. Whilst The Chinese Room are to be commended for trying to create something different from the usual shooting and flying in alien invasion it seems they’ve missed the mark when it came to thinking of the player, of you experiencing what they’ve made.
‘Show, don’t tell.’.