The Chinese Room
Sony Computer Entertainment
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is stunning. There’s a beauty to the mundane village of Yaughton that has stopped me dead several times and caused me with alarming frequency to spend several minutes trying to position myself just right to catch the perfect screenshot.
I’ve taken nearly a hundred as I’ve traipsed through the sleepy valley that makes up The Chinese Room’s latest walking simulator.
Let’s get one that out of the way: it is a walking simulator, and your interactions are limited to opening doors, looking at stuff, listening to audio logs and occasionally manipulating glowing balls of light to show a scene from shortly before the rapture. That last part is the most awkward interaction in the game with you having to twirl the Sixaxis controller like a baton to get the glowing orbs to spill their secrets, but otherwise it’s a meditative experience.
If the idea of a walking simulator leaves you cold, this won’t be helped by the games incredibly slow walking speed, which does a good job of forcing you to look at the world around you. I didn’t really encounter any problems with it and there is a gradual sprint button mapped to R2 that didn’t seem to be on any of the controller mappings, but I found myself only using it when I wanted to backtrack. You do move slowly through the world, but I feel it fits with the pacing.
You’ve got all the time you need, though, the village is totally deserted. If not the rapture, everybody has gone somewhere. The game doesn’t ask you to decipher the mystery, or ask you to do anything at all, but there’s a bouncing trail of light coyly floating around on the highway that’ll slowly take you where you need to go to in order to pick up a few hints. If you want to run down the first alley you can see, that’s an option too. This kind of fragmented storytelling reminds me somewhat of Her Story although instead of searching lists of words you’re sneaking through woods and into houses.
In my very first interview as a journalist I was talking to a former town mayor, looking around I saw that he had a full collection of Jeffrey Archer books on a shelf and that he unplugged his TV at the wall when he wasn’t using it. Those details felt like secrets I shouldn’t know, somehow illicit. Traipsing through this abandoned village gives me that same feeling: From discovering the hospital bed with a comfy chair next to it secreted in a character’s spare room. Later I seeing the rock where as a teenager he scratched his initials alongside those of his future wife, there’s an intimacy here, a relationship with this now-vanished characters that goes deeper than a couple of audio logs.