Fancy a walk in the countryside? We can start at the Yaughton corner shop, ramble through Tipworth Forest, follow that with a detour to Lakeside holiday camp, then end up taking in the scenery at the Valis observatory. There’s even a couple of pubs along the way where we can stop for a pint. Perfect!
I do love a good walk, and this week I’ve walked bloody miles. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, released last week to near unanimous critical praise, is the ultimate walking simulator. Those who would aim that at the game as some sort of derisive barb are completely missing the point. It’s a good thing.
The talented folk at Brighton-based developer The Chinese Room (Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs) have created the video game equivalent of a stroll through the imagined England of a John Wyndham novel, mashing sci-fi undertones with Ordnance Survey nostalgia. To attempt to sprint through the landscape would be to spoil the journey entirely. The game’s fictional village of Yaughton needs time to seep into your soul and take root.
On my first playthrough of many I approached the Rapture completely wrong. Raised on a diet of mystery games in the key of Myst and its sequel Riven, along with more modern fare such as Simogo’s Year Walk and Device 6, I listened intently to each radio message for clues to possible puzzles I may have to solve. I jotted down each string of numbers I heard as I tuned into the many radios and TVs littering the village, imagining a scenario to come where those numbers would lead to some sort of explanation for the fate of Yaughton’s inhabitants. It was only on my second journey through the village that I realised that the mystery is just a smokescreen.
The true majesty in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture lies in the stories it deftly weaves as you amble through the landscape. Tales of love, friendship, loss, faith, loneliness, and of relationships fixed and broken. All are elegantly told through simple mechanics, with the comforting nostalgia of Yaughton making the story all the more affecting. Seemingly innocuous places such as the local pub or bus stop become haunted with the memory of past drama. To rush through these stories would be to miss the intricacies of the relationships The Chinese Room have created. It was only when I had unlocked all of the story, helpfully signposted by the mysterious light orbs that were my only real companions in the game, that I fully understood their purpose.
So what is the meaning of the Rapture? What fate has befallen the inhabitants of such a picturesque and quaint English village? That would be telling, although I will tell you it’s almost certainly not what you think it is. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a journey that needs to be experienced without prior knowledge or agenda. So take the scenic route, wander off the beaten track, and explore Yaughton to its fullest. Here’s a friendly tip – be sure to stop off for a pint at one of those pubs on your way.