This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Everybody's Gone To The Rapture.
Now, I'm not an expert at naming things, as can be evidenced from the fact that I call myself "Yahtzee" for no better reason than to embarrass myself every time I give my name for a takeout order. But I do know that if you're gonna make a game about uncovering the truth behind a mystery, maybe don't give the answer in the fucking title.
So we start Everybody's Gone To The Rapture and think, wow, an intriguing deathly silence hangs over this remote but apparently once-vibrant village community. I wonder what could have- oh. Well, maybe if we explore it thoroughly, we might find a couple of survivors to talk to or interact with. "No, you won't, because everybody's gone. That's what 'everybody' means. If it qualifies as a body, then it is gone. Just wander about and listen to the lovely music for two or three hours." So have they literally gone to the rapture, then? "Well, maybe that's the mystery you can piece together on the way." Kind of a moot point now, isn't it? The "Everybody's gone" already gave the game away. We already know we're not going to find shit, doesn't matter whether they went to rapture or to Rotherham.
Everybody's Gone To The Rapture (I hope Andrew Ryan set up enough guest rooms, mehehehe!) is a "game" in massive bleeding sarcasm quotes by The Chinese Room, the developers of Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Metaphor For Pigs. So that's three games and a grand total of zero characters they've had to render so far (unless you count pigs). But clearly, that was on sufferance, 'cause they're back to the Dear Esther comfort zone for Rapture: you wander around in first-person as the story is brought across through disembodied voices. All that passes for gameplay is looking for the next place to stand to make another disembodied voice play. To that end, there's a weird glowing light trail thing that indicates towards places with slightly infuriating vagueness. It'll lead you all the way down one path and then -psyche!- turn around and lead you all the way back up it again. It's like trying to walk a dog that hasn't quite decided which tree it's going to piss up today.
So let's call Everybody's Going On Holiday what it is: a walking simulator. That new breed of narrative-driven game like your Gone Homes and your Stanley Parables that thinks its writing is so clever it doesn't even need gameplay to back it up. And Everybody Goes To Ravenholm is a walking simulator in the most literal sense. Would it really have killed the intended rich story experience to give us a fucking run button? Hey, Everybody Loves Raymond, I walked all the way across this meadow you didn't fence off and found nothing but beautifully rendered grass and a snotty handkerchief. Any chance I could get back to the main road in some manner faster than Stephen Hawking trying to get across a shingle beach? "What, I thought you liked pacing." I meant in the sense of narrative structuring. "Oh sorry, I misunderstood. I put you down for 'walking around in circles for four hours'."
Now, walking simulators have always felt for me like a method of storytelling only slightly better than trying to read a book that's been glued to the side of a nervous gazelle. But maybe that's just the nihilist hardcore gamer talking, who hasn't had a good day if he hasn't died by proxy at least five times. Let's momentarily buy into the notion that challenge isn't necessarily a component of interactive storytelling and judge the sarcasm quotes "game" by its narrative alone. Well, if you insist, Everybody Put Your Hands In The Air Like You Just Don't Care.
The setting is an idyllic English village community, so I hope you like post-war prefab housing, 'cause you're gonna see a lot of it. Oh look, this one's got a plastic slide in the back garden, slow this fucking rollercoaster down! A scientist and complete douche-balloon who grew up there returns with his American scientist wife, and the pair of them proceed to science it up in a local observatory. After which, a strange phenomenon starts causing the population to mysteriously disappear one by one. We gather all this from glowing particle effects that hover around replaying past conversations between the disappeared residents. I guess Chinese Room really don't trust themselves to depict human characters visually, perhaps because they'd all look like fence posts with nice haircuts. But it would be nice to have had something besides voice to go on when we're trying to tell the motherfuckers apart. There are a few people with comically-broad Welsh and West Country accents that turn the experience into The Archers meets Quatermass and the Pit (Blimey, no one's going to fucking get that one!). But besides that, there's like five guys on the "slightly posh dude of average age" spectrum.
I suppose my first major problem with the story is that I assumed I was crawling through the village on my overloaded mobility scooter to discover the nature of the mysterious event that happened to it. It's rather swiftly established that everyone got disappeared by space magic. But after completing the game, I still didn't have any explanation better than "everyone got disappeared by space magic", which raised the obvious question of what the hell we have learning for the last three hours. Well, we know that the scientist guy is a complete douche-balloon because his-mum is the Lord High Empress of the busybody cattle-cunts. And we witnessed a bunch of other interpersonal conflicts that all ended rather anticlimactically when - you guessed it - everyone got disappeared by space magic.
But you know what? Everybody Wants To Rule The World was never intended to be traditional storytelling, what with events playing out for us in essentially random order. So now as well as being glued to the side of a gazelle, the book's being chewed up by the honey badger riding on the gazelle's back. Maybe, rather than a linear mystery to be unlocked by the end, I should see it as immersing myself in the larger world of the characters. The problem with that is, I don't like any of the characters, And I'd sooner immerse myself in a vat of cold Marmite. I think I'm supposed to sympathize with the American scientist lady because this is rural England and the locals read the words, "American scientist lady" the same way they read the words, "Venusian ballerina crab". But she's hardly meeting them halfway, treating them like idiots and reacting hypersensitively to their blissful ignorance, like a cat that shares a litter box with a hedgehog.
So on the whole, I can't say I recommend Everybody's A Little Bit Racist. But just to be clear, I'm not averse to the whole "interactive narrative" bit, just because at no point in them do I get ambushed by skeleton warriors. Stanley Parable, for example, is really good, but that's because the story is driven by the actions of the player. Everybody Do The Dinosaur is not interactive narrative, it's just plain old narrative classic scattered to the winds, like we're trying to listen to a radio with really patchy reception, or indeed read a book that was glued to a gazelle and a honey badger until they all fell into a wood chipper. Christ, Chinese Room! What have you got against gazelles?
- Gone to the supermarket: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Still, check out the game if you're wondering what that bloke from Goodnight Sweetheart is doing with his time these days.
- Everybody came back from the rapture looking a bit sheepish