Thursday, 10 September 2015

Everybody's Gone To The Rapture - Gamertroll Review - PS4 (PSN)

Everybody's gone. It's the 80's. Something spooky and extraterrestrial has happened and there is a yellow Willow the Wisp that wants to lead you about and show you ghosts of rural folk and sundries. They say things. If you can handle the raw empowerment of being able to walk and listen, It's one hell of a rodeo.

That could be a sarcastic wrap for the entire review, but you know Gamertroll is not going to leave it there, Oh no.

For the uninitiated, The Chinese room has done games like this before, most notably Dear Esther. Like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, there were no properly definable human characters featured in that previous game either. It's oddly frustrating not to see a single person in their first three games now and Gamertroll has to question whether The developer has an allergy to the human form or simply lacks the confidence in it's own abilities to attempt a life-like depiction.

You can venture into many houses, half are the same inside
The town of Yaughton and her environs are another matter however, a quick glance at the sceenshots will tell you all you need to know about the quality of visuals on offer. Despite the conspicuous lack of shadows on random objects and some close-up textural blurring, the game has an unusual level of graphical prowess for a cheaper indie title. This 80's facsimile of a British West-Midlands village has charm and evident care taken in it's construction.

"Everybody's Gone To The Rapture": You'd expect that to be spoiler, but it isn't. At least in so much as it only reveals everybody is literally gone because you can't spoil this game, You'll never know more than the bloody title reveals. Expect to spend 3-4 hrs wandering about, listening to barely visible ghosts, finding nobody and getting no answers at the end. Nothing you do (other than trapesing about) can influence or reveal anything of consequence. The galactic paranormal event in question is all over and done with and all you're left to do is sift through the human dramas which sound almost exactly like an episode of Radio 4's The Archers.
This is as close to seeing a person as you're gonna get folks

Opps! Somebody pranged their Landy
This is an Art game. More than that, it is a walking simulator which until The Chinese room informed the world of their blunder, was a 3 mph walking simulator. Try investigating a field with nothing in it travelling at 3mph, it's a unique torture. You see, it turns out there is a run button in the game, but they forgot to tell us all because game testers' recommendations forced it's inclusion late in the development cycle. It was on R2 all along and it only kicks in after being held for over 2-3 seconds, so no early adopters of the game could have stumbled upon it. Good news too, it allows you to go 5 mph and cuts the game down to about 2-3hrs. Ay yi yi.

As Gamertroll briefly mentioned, there's a wisp. You don't have to wander blindly in Yaughton as you investigate the wake of this otherworldly catastrophe, this unexplained glowing yellow light serves as a prompt to keep prodding the player along what serves as a narrative. Think of it as the equivalent of a flashing lever in an over-obvious platform game like Lego whatever. The trouble with this light is it's like following a pet dog let off it's leash, it often takes you round in pointless circles and into dead ends before shooting off in search of another narrational butt to sniff. All especially frustrating when the walking camera that serves as a protagonist moves as if through a vat of syrup.

Which brings us to the protagonist. What protagonist? Sure, you wheeze along like a 300lb humanoid, but apart providing a window on (past) events for the player, there is no explanation of id whatsoever. For one thing, it smacks of lazy writing and worse: if the avatar is a human, it would be in a direct contradiction to the narrative plot. Not Everybody's gone to the Rapture then, because You fuckin' haven't.

Weasel or Mongoose?
Despite those rather important cons, the game does evoke an eerily accurate portrayal of a West Midlands village. Gamertroll should know from growing up there in the 80's. It's all a bit generic and sterile (could have certainly done with more than 4 different car models), but there is a progression worked into the story with environments varying pleasantly as the plot and the day wears on.

The progressional element is, as you would expect in a walking simulator: the strongest part of the game. As the generally irksome ex-population of Yaughton expose their personal dramas to their often sad conclusions, the sun is setting or darkness falls and the game's notably emotive soundtrack yanks at the heart strings, teasing a measure of compassion from the player.

As the day wears on the game looks prettier. That often pinky yellow West Midlands sky can't have been easy to recreate
Despite the slog, Gamertroll did playthrough this game from cradle to grave, gawping at the static 80's memorabilia while trundling after the mysterious yellow guide on it's convoluted dance between ghostly non-interactive audio clips only to be eventually rewarded by a vague, non-ending. In space apparently, nobody can hear you 'Meh'.

Brighter glowing areas usually indicate more dramatic
audio snippets
That most art games often make the trade off of gameplay for story or style is widely accepted, but therein lies the biggest problem with this game: Apart from waving the controller about a bit in order to prompt a few of the more key audio sequences, it has traded any semblance of gameplay for a story that really doesn't justify the sacrifice. 

Everybody's Gone To The Rapture's plot is ambiguous to a fault, it's narrative premise is so weak as to lead Gamertroll to the conclusion that the entire theme of the game is more likely a contrivance based on the Chinese Room's reluctance to depict the human body. With meager interaction and a plot thinner than a wanker's hanky: that leaves the justification for entire game's existence pinned to the hope that players are held in thrall by the 80's retro appeal. As a person who lived through the era near the Shropshire locale, Gamertroll can say that it just suffices to make it worth a look. Just, mind you.      

All told, it's a few hours of mild entertainment and who could argue it doesn't offer some value in that? You can certainly feel more immersed in the story than you would watching a film, but due to the inherently stilted pace and ephemeral lack of determination or interaction, you'll be less engaged than you would reasonably expect from a 'game'.

My, now that's a camping stove, just
look at the tea cup!
Barely scraping into the category of Video game, Everybody's Gone To The Rapture is more of an audio/visual book akin to a half-written Doctor Who or Quatermass episode. Visually interesting but the almost non-existent plot so crucial to get right in a game of this nature, leaves a gaping emptiness even the 80's nostalgia can't fill.  

Hello my old friend

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