October 05, 2017

That's A Wrap: Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

warning: may contain spoilers

I went into Rapture knowing only one thing, which is that it's described as a "walking simulator", which, to me, means the game will be reasonably short and not very demanding of the player. Sounds like everything else I've played lately, right? In fact, I was reminded of the game's existence after my blogging pal Sarca mentioned it in her Journey entry. I recalled getting the game from my PS+ subscription but, like most of the games I get there, I completely ignored it despite being intrigued by the name.
So upon booting it up, I took a moment to get myself acquainted with the first-person view, thanking my lucky stars that there won't (as far as I know) be any shooting to do. The game really doesn't give you much to work with beyond a short introduction to one or two characters called Kate and Stephen. Given the title of the game, I knew we'd be dealing with an "end of the world" scenario and assumed I was playing as Kate for a while. For the next hour or two, I found myself a little frustrated with the lack of direction - I had literally no idea what I was doing; my objective, how to find things, what to interact with? And at the same time I found myself amused by how much this situation looks like what I'd probably do if I was "left behind"... wander around and explore people's houses and shit. The aimless nature of the game is actually kind of welcoming to a native explorer like me, but I still wish I had some idea what to do. Eventually, I noticed the repeated mention of the observatory, and assumed I needed to head back there. Before I reached it (I went the complete opposite direction, didn't pay much attention to that map on my first spin...) I started to figure out what was going on and how to play the game.

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is a 2015 first-person walking sim developed by The Chinese Room with the help of Sony's Santa Monica Studios. It's a story-heavy experience released exclusively for the PS4, until 2016 when it was ported to PC.
The presence of Santa Monica Studios is very obvious in Rapture, the game looks very much like... well pretty much every Sony exclusive. That's a good thing! Sony games are pretty! Rapture is no exception, although it is noticeably primitive compared to some of the powerhouse flagships cranked out by Sony's bigwig devs, like Naughty Dog. Nevertheless, the little town of Yaughton is quite welcoming and diverse; very much a place I would enjoy living in real life. You could easily take a two hour hike in this village every day and never tire of the scenery. Well, if it loaded in a timely manner, that is. Sadly, Rapture performs quite poorly on PS4, which is odd. I'm not normally one of drone on about graphics not looking great, but the slow load of details was noticeable throughout the whole game. A trade for a loading screens, I guess, I can't recall a single one besides the lengthy load at the very beginning of the game. In spite of all this, the devs did not shy away from details, and making our recently vacated home feel like just that, complete with Britain's patented poor weather! Actually, it only rained for one "level" of the game, but it was a welcome change of pace. All said and done, I spent more time in awe over the graphical design of the game than I did whining.
That sky, though.
The sound in Rapture (rapturerapturerapture. Getting mad Bioshock flashbacks here) is a little hit and miss. The general vibe of the game's sound is awesome and very... rapture-ific. One of the first things I noticed, in fact. The score is decent although a little hard to predict; at first I thought it meant to follow along with my actions and the people I was "interacting" with, like their own musical story? This seemed mostly true until I met Stephen, and the game just kinda did whatever the damn it wanted... seemed to be tethered more to the zone than any action or character. Pretty cool little score, though. The voice acting is also rather good!
The real problems start with the sound effects. Rapture borrows another of Bioshock's best features in its use of audio discovery. You spend a good deal of the game seeking out radios and phones (including the fantastic, gargantuan, 1980's cellular brick kind!) all of which provide a snippet of a conversation or train of thought related to the plot. To inform you of such a device's presence, the game loops some creepy, static-y, radio call audio of a robotic woman (Kate?) calling out numbers that I'll never forget... one. six. one. four. seven. one. or just phones ringing. The trouble is that these effects never actually lined up with the position of the source, so you'd think you were walking towards a target, when in fact you were walking the OPPOSITE direction. The audio got louder if I had my back to it, and was audible from the most obscure places, but silent when I was standing right next to the damn thing. Come to think of it, Bioshock has this issue as well... starting to understand why I enjoyed this game so much (Bioshock is basically my favorite game ever.) In my video demo below you can see the game trying very hard to pan the audio to whichever "ear" I've got pointed at the source, but it rarely worked out. An obvious flaw, but like all things, once you get used to it, it becomes a little easier to live with.

Despite the whole plot being rapture-based, the character you play (who it turns out is not Kate) is obviously human, as evidenced by human footsteps heard throughout your travels. There are no other human characters, however, and no character art whatsoever. Not even hands.
After landing yourself in this world (it takes place in England, by the way), you follow a fairly obvious path to town and are greeted by free floating balls of light - henceforth called spirits - which you'll learn represent the main characters of our story. Once you've acquainted yourself with one, he or she will lead you on a path and show you snippets of their life in the hours prior to what we're calling the rapture. Once you get to the end of one's story, they will pass you on to the next and what you end up with is a collection of non-linear thoughts which piece together what happened to these people (and all people?). I don't want to discuss the plot any further as it's quite surprising and fun to uncover, which you should experience for yourself when you play the game. I will tell you that the story - which is effectively the point of the game - mixes very common, real life elements with some pretty amazing, almost sci-fi elements. It's a bit tough to get a read on at first but that's very much on purpose. You have to continue the game to get all the pieces and sort the big picture out for yourself. I think you would benefit from multiple playthroughs to really grasp everything (I certainly intend to revisit it).
Our main cast consists of the aforementioned Kate and Stephen, both of whom are scientists whose work is centered around Yaughton's impressive observatory. Stephen is a native of the town, who left and came back with his unwelcome American wife, Kate. Before leaving town, Stephen had a substantial fling with Lizzie, who's since gone on to open an also impressive children's camp (seriously, where was this when I was growing up?!) just outside town, a feat she accomplished despite an injury which left her less mobile than Stephen remembers. Other staples in town include Wendy, Steve's elderly-but-you-wouldn't-know-it mum; farmer Frank, Steve's uncle; and the local man of the cloth, Father Jeremy, who desperately tries to hold the town together. These are the folks who take you for a walk.
In their memories, you'll meet other Shropshire County citizens including Dr. Wade, the Bakers and their teenage daughter Rachel, Howard, Barbara, Rhys, Charlie and assorted other neighbors who help connect our leading lads and ladies.
In terms of the physical journey, I really enjoyed walking Frank's farmland and exploring his barns; you really get a feel for how the "rapture" affected the land on this path. But in terms of story, I felt Lizzie's was the most substantial and perhaps shed the most light on all of the characters and their relations to each other. I also noticed how their spirits tend to act similarly to their characters. Frank and Lizzie would literally walk me through their memories and wait around until I had finished before moving on, while inpatient and impulsive Stephen would anxiously take off. I actually lost him and missed the port to the end of the game because I didn't have his guidance. And as they say, the Appleton doesn't fall far from the tree...🙄

So that just leaves gameplay, and I'm sure you can imagine for a walking simulator, it's quite complex...
...yeah, no. No combat, no menus, no real side quests - apart from finding radios and phones to help piece together the story, which you really should do anyway. All there really is to do is walk, and occasionally hop over a gate or push open a door and explore to your hearts content - there is plenty to look at.
There is one mechanic in the game, which confused me quite a bit, and that is a sort of memory recall mechanic. While you're following your spirit tour guide, they occasionally stop and sort of... lay an egg... which you then have to engage using the dualshock 4's sixaxis. It'll show you, the first time you come across such an experience, but I found the activity to be pretty strange and hard to execute sometimes. I'm really not certain if it was just me, or if the little eggs are supposed to get harder to crack as the stories go on, but I found my controller-tilting command worked less and less and I could not tell if I just wasn't lined up correctly or...? I honestly don't know, it's a very odd mechanic and I can't comprehend why some memories are instigated by my presence while these ones have to be coerced. I can't say I enjoyed finding them though the reward was always useful.

The controls for Rapture are as complex as the gameplay... not at all. Your left stick moves your character while the right moves the camera, and other than that you've got X to interact. That's it, unless you plan to make as much use of the screen cap function as I did, in which case, get your 'share' button ready!

Apart from that random egg memory thing, there isn't really a single thing I can point out that could possible qualify this game as anything that could be defined as difficult. It's a walking sim, you need time and that's about it. The area is a bit daunting until you realize that each character is going to walk you through a section of it, and when all else fails there are about a million maps scattered around, most of which give you a handy "you are here!" sticker to orient yourself. If you stick to your spirit, you shouldn't get lost.

Speaking of time, the game takes maybe 5 or 6 hours to complete, although if I'm honest, it doesn't feel like anything close to that. Once you get the ball rolling, time seems to just evaporate. My first 3 hour session felt more like 1. Once I returned to the game, it was over in no time. I expect if you enjoy exploring at all, you'll have a similar experience.

Sheesh, I thought this was going to be a short article! Okay so in terms of improvements, I can only reiterate the need for smoother loading and perhaps a little more clarity at the beginning of the game. I'm not even sure how I would do this, but an hour or two seems like a long time to expect people to go without any sense of purpose. I did plenty of exploring on my own, so establishing some sort of direction would be welcome in the very beginning. Oh! And walking speed. I'm not moving that slowly by choice in that video...
The last thing I can't help but thinking is how awesome a documentation aspect would probably suit this game; perhaps a photography or evidence gathering activity? I certainly made a point of taking lots of pictures...
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pleasantly surprised by my experience with Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. With or without fabulous Bioshock homages, I enjoyed the story, the pace, the audio aspect (sans mixing faux pas), the characters, the exploration (and freedom to do so) and the design of the area, especially. I went in with basically no expectations and left very satisfied! I fully intend to replay Rapture to help solidify my understanding, and the short nature of the game affords me the ability to do so.
I'll happily recommend Rapture to anyone that places story and exploration high on their gaming wishlist. If action or combat are the kings of your castle, steer clear of this one.

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is available on PS4 via the PS Store (only, there is no physical release as of this publishing) and on Steam for PC. The soundtrack is also available for just a few bucks!

LOTIPS
  • If you lose your spirit, reload your game.
  • Have a good, hard look at Lizzie's spirit... little different from the others?🤔
  • Look up.
  • To find everything, you will have to ditch your tour guide from time to time and explore on your own. Try to get your bearings and/or wait for your friend to stop at an obvious spot where they might wait for you before moving on, so you can find them again and resume your journey. It's a little tricky until you get to know them. 

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