As I’ve demonstrated on this blog, I’ve got a soft spot for “walking simulator” narrative experiences. If they’re done well and have a good reputation, I’ll snap them up and generally enjoy them, including titles such as Gone Home, Tacoma, and What Remains of Edith Finch. One game on my “to play” list for a while now was Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture by developer Chinese Room, and finally I grabbed it and gave it a go over a couple of nights.
Like most walking simulator games, there isn’t much challenge here — it’s more about soaking up the atmosphere, finding triggers for bits of story, and examining environmental clues for narrative tales. Rapture is a very lonely, very sad game that often looks pretty on the outside.
I’ll say up front that I ended up very divided on this title. There’s a lot of great elements here and it generally crafted a tale that sparked my imagination and had me thinking about it for days afterward. Yet it’s also a painfully slow experience that isn’t always clear in direction or story.
So what’s it about? Without delving into too many spoilers, you start out in a small English village where everybody is gone — yet they were obviously there not too long before, as there is evidence everywhere of humans. Bloody tissues and radios apparently tuned to number stations crank up the eerie atmosphere, but perhaps nothing is as weird as these dashing balls of light that zip here and there all over the place.
Basically, the apocalypse has just happened, and your sole job is to uncover the story of it and the people that used to live here. Part of that is done through poking around the place, but most of it comes from these light “ghosts” that pop up here and there and have conversations that show you different chapters at different time periods. I think we’re about at the end of an era where games can get away with doing the whole exposition ghosts thing, and here it felt a little more tired than I’ve seen elsewhere.
The village has a large cast of characters with a lot of relationships and storylines, and it’s surprising how many of these I ended up picking out over time. From a disabled lady running a camp to a Welsh couple on the run to a pair of scientists to a priest trying to do his best, I got to know a lot about these folks without ever properly seeing them. Half of the story is about their own lives and interpersonal relationships, and the other half is how each of them deal with the encroaching apocalypse that they can’t really understand or react to.
It was a little eerie and occasionally creepy, but Rapture doesn’t go for jump scares or disturbing visuals at any point. The first half of the game was very engrossing as the whole threat wasn’t that clear, but as time went on and the pieces fell into place, I found myself becoming less interested with the story solution that the writers had concocted. It makes sense, I guess, but it isn’t as gripping as it should have been for a game of this type.
Let’s go back to the problems. The biggest, by far, is that the game map is pretty sizable and not always super-linear, yet the player character moves about as fast as I actually walk. Realistic, maybe, but it wasn’t fun in the least to move around. Just felt ploddingly slow and stopped me from exploring off the beaten path after a while.
And you kind of want to explore, because you never know where the next story triggers might be. It’s really possible to miss a LOT of this game’s story if you don’t find specific places or return to spots later on (which I never realized). Toward the end, I found myself lost until I consulted a guide and realized that I had to backtrack aaaaaall the way back to the start.
One other criticism that I had was that there are several unresolved questions and plot holes (such as who the player character is supposed to be). I ended up liking the regular human stories far more than the apocalyptic threat, which felt weird in retrospect. Jumping around in time as I encountered stories out of sequence made for some degree of fascination as I pieced them together, but it kept bothering me that I might have missed some.
Is Rapture worth playing? I think it is, with caveats. Edith Finch was just much better overall, Tacoma had a tighter experience and better mechanic, but Rapture perhaps has the most ambitious storytelling out of all of these types of games. With faster travel and perhaps a little more refinement in the storytelling delivery, I might have put it among the best. As it is, solid B+.