In 1957, British science fiction writer John Wyndham published a novel called The Midwich Cuckoos. The basic plot surrounded the small, sedate village of Midwich in the heart of the English countryside, where a strange event suddenly rendered all the villagers unconscious. Anything entering within a 2 mile radius of the village was instantly knocked out, before regaining consciousness after removal from the area. The army are called in, and a day later all the villagers awake with seemingly no ill effects. It later transpires that all women in the village have inexplicably become pregnant, and they later give birth to children with golden hair and mysteriously piercing golden eyes. It’s clear that the children are not entirely human; they have the ability to communicate telepathically and age at an accelerated rate. The plot eventually rumbles towards a showdown between the children and the rest of the villagers, and the resolution isn’t pretty.
The Midwich Cuckoos is a classic of the British science fiction because it presents something completely unknown in a very ordinary and everyday environment. It’s the same formula that led to the success of Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, his most popular novel and arguably pre-cursor to the post-apocalypse genre. It’s manifestly clear that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture draws heavily on its influence from John Wyndham, as it does from not only other science fiction, but also the classic BBC radio drama The Archers. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the quaintest apocalypse you will ever encounter, but it’s also one filled with emotive human stories of love, tragedy, faith, and family. Your tolerance for the sometimes painfully slow movement across the landscape will be a barrier for many, but those who are able to properly immerse themselves will find one of the most finely crafted and best acted videogames in years.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (EGTTR) is set in the idyllic Yaughton Valley in rural Shropshire, in the summer of 1984. It’s never stated who “you” are, but when you start the game you’re deposited outside the Vallis Observatory just up the road from Yaughton village, while a cryptic message from a Dr. Katherine Collins announces “They’re all gone. I’m the only one left.” And she’s right; the entire village and surrounding woodland is completely deserted. From here, you’re left to wonder around the valley at your leisure, slowly piecing together the stories of the villager’s lives and what actually happened to everyone. This is a cosy apocalypse of the highest order, given that there are no enemies, no threats, and no force that must be vanquished. The apocalypse is over, and the human race clearly lost. The plot and your interest in it hinge in whether or not you find the characters that populate the Yaughton valley believable and relatable. Personally, I found the voice acting to be top notch, and it helped admirably to create many nuanced, well-rounded characters. Favourites include the modernizing, non-evangelical Father Jeremy struggling to cope with the situation, the crabby old lady Mary Boyles, and the old-fashioned but down to earth farmer, Frank Appleton. There are some irritating characters though; most notably Katharine’s husband Steven who I found lacking in any redeeming features.
The game consists primarily of exploring the environment, poking around the gardens, houses, pubs, and other buildings of Yaughton, whilst listening to a number of flashbacks that occur around you while you wander. These flashbacks are acted out by floating semi-transparent outlines of the characters they’re representing, which appear to be made of liquid light. Some flashbacks happen automatically as you approach them, while others must be “tuned” by moving your mouse to align a floating ball of light with the sweet spot. This is about as game-y as the game gets. Aside from opening doors, turning on radios or TVs, and occasionally answering a ringing telephone, this is about the limit of your interaction with the environment. Some will naturally be dissatisfied at the lack of interactivity on offer here, and whilst I was disappointed there wasn’t the ability to zoom in or pick up and manipulate objects (ala Gone Home), I enjoyed exploring nonetheless.
It has to be said, EGTTR is one of the most intensely beautiful games I have ever played, and I mean that with zero hyperbole intended. The style is hyper-realistic, with the world being an almost completely true-to-life representation of what a classic English village looks like (speaking as an Englishman myself). There are the classic red phone boxes, thatched cottages, dense woodland, rolling countryside, and cosy pubs. There are even British water meters; a minor point which speaks volumes of the obsessive attention to detail. Whilst some interiors occasionally feel a bit too similar to each other (e.g. the interior of the pubs), all are highly detailed with various environmental storytelling cues. The chairs scattered around at random in the village hall; the doors of a car left hanging open in the middle of the street; it all speaks of the speed and suddenness of the calamity that gripped Yaughton and how little anyone could do to stop it.
Along with the incredible visuals, EGTTR has a simply mesmerising original soundtrack. Jessica Curry (who also did the music for The Chinese Room’s previous walk-‘em-up Dear Esther) has composed a tour de force of haunting tunes, complete with full orchestra and choir. These are heartbreakingly lamenting pieces of music which take inspiration from traditional English folk, choral, and religious music and fits the atmosphere perfectly. The music is also used to great effect during the chapter finale sequences, when day turns to night and you’re surrounded by iridescent balls of light. It makes walking around the Yaughton Valley a really sombre experience, thinking about the lives of the people who used to inhabit the village and how they’re all conspicuously absent.
It’s worth mentioning the general quality of the PC version. On the whole, at standard High settings the game looks utterly gorgeous and usually can maintain a decent framerate, but bumping effects up to ultra will definitely result in significant and painful slowdown. Reports also indicate this occurs on even the most powerful systems. I also noticed some screen tearing even with Vsync enabled, although this should now have been patched out. There is also no field of view option in game (a criminal oversight in any first-person game), but the FoV can be manually adjusted via some config files.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a slow-burn; certainly slower than a lot of audiences will tolerate. Your movement is quite infuriatingly slow, and even though there is a “run” button, this merely increases your speed from a leisurely stroll to that of a brisk walk. The minimal interaction with the environment around you, coupled with the fact that nothing really “happens” during the game as you’re simply reliving events that have already taken place may irritate some. However, if you’re someone who enjoys a slower, more ponderous experience, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has that in spades. The game looks so good, and sounds so good, that the deficiencies when it comes to interactivity can be overlooked. With an emotive cast and a unique setting, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a fascinating and memorable journey throughout.