Everybody's Gone to the Rapture: Entering the white light

Fictional apocalypses are usually pretty straightforward, but in Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, the end of the world is anything but simple. There are no blasted wastes, shambling infected or 12ft spiders to offer clues as to why humans are now an endangered species all you know to begin with is that you’re in the village of Yaughton in Shropshire, it’s an impossibly lovely day, and there’s not a soul in sight.

You might think The Chinese Room’s next game after  Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs  sounds explicitly religious. The reality, of course, is far more ambiguous. “It’s not a religious apocalypse,” says creative director Dan Pinchbeck. “[The nature of] the apocalypse is the central mystery. It starts off with being a few different things, and it’s trying to work out what exactly has happened over the course of the game.”

What’s fascinating about this story-driven open-world exploration game is that people will unravel that mystery in different ways. Your role as the priest of Yaughton’s parish, and seemingly the only surviving member of the world’s most pleasant apocalypse, is to walk around uncovering snippets of story. These take the form of balls of golden light, and there’s no set order in which to encounter them. “It’s tied into the mystery of the game why there are balls of light,” Pinchbeck explains. “We didn’t just want to have audio diaries; we wanted to have a visual thing in there as well. So when a scene’s going on, there’s stuff going on around you.”

Rarely will you find yourself tapping your foot and waiting for the audio to finish. You’ll need to track it, actively engage with it. It’s a solution to the old dilemma of interactive narrative, one that inspires players rather than steering them down specific paths. Because while these unexplained phenomena serve to elegantly deliver snippets of exposition, their very presence is also a mystery.

The golden orbs aren’t just floating audio tracks to chase, though they’re able to morph into the vague forms of people. For example, you might discover a scene in a house in which a mother, surrounded by bloody tissues, is gently weeping. As she walks upstairs to check on her kids, who haven’t been down in six hours, her light casts long columns of shadow between the banisters. Of course, you could forgo this tragic scene entirely. Head into the village pub and you’ll spot still-lit cigarettes in ashtrays and half-drunk pints on the bar, indicating that what occurred here happened recently.

Although a small slice of rural Devon might appear like a location only a small number of people could possibly identify with, its authenticity as a setting is what Pinchbeck is banking on to immerse those who haven’t visited England’s more pastoral corners. “My favourite games are Stalker and Metro, and I’m not from Moscow or Ukraine,” Pinchbeck says. “I think if you do a convincing enough world, people are people, and we might speak a different language, but actually we’re pretty similar in a lot of ways.” Detail is key, and in Yaughton there’s always a sense that someone has been there before you.

It’s also a painstaking period piece: set in 1984, this is a world without Internet and mobile phones. You’re absolutely dependant on TV and radio for information, with the entire world ending at the boundaries of your town. That requires rigorous attention to detail. “You drop in a prop and the prop doesn’t feel quite right, and you’ve lost the entire scene,” Pinchbeck says. “So it’s quite an intense process. Take the wheelie bins. Our artist put wheelie bins in and we had to go round and say, ‘They didn’t have wheelie bins in 1984!’ So we had to put in metal bins.”

In  Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, however, you’ve got the power to ignore such details. And that’s what sets this game apart from more directly narrative-driven offerings. What’s the nature of this apocalypse? That’s for you to decide.

Brookfield Yarn
In a game where characters are represented by golden orbs, there is  a limited number of ways for them to express their emotions and intent. Strong voice acting is therefore key, and The Chinese Room knows it. “We had stunning voice actors,” Pinchbeck says. “We were so lucky.” And there’s a reason these velvety voiced Brits chatting over a background chorus of birdsong sounds so familiar: “Yes, there were a couple of people from The Archers in there, the cream of British radio and TV drama.” While hardly household names, these are veteran actors, skilled in delivering the required emotional payload with pinpoint accuracy through speech alone.

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