A loud demo room with half a dozen games may not be the best venue to take in a quiet, introspective story-driven game like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. But it's a testament to how intriguing and believable its world is that within moments of putting on the headphones and picking up the controller, I was fully transported into developer The Chinese Room's vision of a quiet English town post-apocalypse.
But this isn't a game about an apocalypse. This is a game about people.
"We see a lot of apocalyptic worlds in video games," said Tom Turner, Studio Manager of The Chinese Room, who led my demo. But The Chinese Room isn't going for a big, bombastic video game apocalypse, fire and brimstone and gnarly SFX and such. The team wants to make something much more intimate. "This is what it would be like if it were you and me," he said, indicating that this is a story about normal people in a normal town, just living their lives and dealing with something no person is equipped to make sense of.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a first person, narrative driven game, much like Gone Home or The Chinese Room’s own Dear Esther. I walked through the abandoned town, all bright and airy on what looks like a spring or summer day. Walking up to balls of light and tilting the sixaxis just so yielded bits of story — a sort of spectral "memory" of people talking, scenes that led up to the mysterious "event." There are a few radios scattered throughout the town as well, and the environment yields plenty of clues about what happened — quarantine posters over a shop's windows, hastily scrawled fliers for a town meeting adorning public spaces. But the scenes that play out at the lights are the real highlight of the game’s storytelling.
Every scene offers more clues about this world and what happened here. But they also tell you everything you need to know about the people who lived in this world. In one early sequence, an older woman convinces a younger lady to go on a date with an old fling. In another, two women watch their children play while they discuss what appears to be a flu outbreak. Later, in one of the demo’s most heart-wrenching scenes, two characters talk about what happened to their families. The performances are believable and the writing shies away from easy histrionics, the characters, spectral as they are in appearance, feel like real folks who are flawed and scared, dealing as best they can with the situation.
I won't spoil the content of these scenes, but you can see some of them for yourself in the video above. Suffice it to say, say they were affecting enough to almost make me cry in a room full of people and otherwise loud, colorful indie games. After my demo, I took the headphones off and put the controller down, but those characters stuck with me for the rest of the day.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is slated to launch this year on the PlayStation 4.
Disclaimer: Polygon accepted transportation to Sony's preview event.