Platform: PS4

This review will avoid any significant story spoilers for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (I'll just shorten that to Rapture for the rest of the review). EVERY review of this game should probably attempt to avoid spoilers because, even more so than with narrative-heavy games like The Last of Us or the Metal Gear series, the story of Rapture is the whole point. It's the thing you play the game for. It is the game. You use the controller to explore a story, and if you already know what happens in that story it takes away the core reason you'd ever want to play this game.

So if you really like the sound of Rapture, avoid spoilers at all costs and just go play it. 

Welcome to the story

Rapture was developed by The Chinese Room and SCE Santa Monica Studio and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. The Chinese Room made their name with Dear Esther, an experimental narrative-driven title with essentially no interactivity to it, in which players wandered some striking natural environments and gradually triggered narration and other story-delivery elements in a way that was, at the time, very novel. Now it's a few years later, and the industry has seen further exploration of the "interactive narrative" space in gaming, with games like Gone Home and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter putting different spins on the core idea. 

Another Dear Esther wouldn't have been enough for me at this stage of game development (as much as I did enjoy that game) so I'm happy to report that Rapture adds a number of elements that make the whole experience feel more like a game -- though it's still quite far from what most people probably think when they use that word. Rapture offers a much more richly textured world to explore than Dear Esther, with secrets and additional story potentially hiding in every corner of the lovingly-detailed British village that is the game's setting. The core game involves walking, looking, and occasionally interacting to open doors or activate radios or phones, and while I never really felt like I was overcoming any challenges or obstacles, per-se, seeking out clues and story tidbits was gratifying in sort of the same way as a well-designed hidden object game. If you are the kind of person who chases down every audio recording or diary in a game like Bioshock, then Rapture offers that same kind of fun, distilled and purified. 

Exploration and helpful guides

Rapture sets you down in an idyllic setting after some sort of presumably-cataclysmic event has occurred. It doesn't take much time at all to figure out that whatever occurred was likely connected to the nearby observatory in some way, but beyond that detail the pace of the mystery is largely up to you. In an interesting and well-executed tweak to the narrative game formula, Rapture provides "guides" of a sort through its uninhabited world, which will point players in the direction of the central storyline. These guides are natural and unobtrusive, and in fact I was already about 20% of the way into the game before I even realized that's what they were. 

Players are free to ignore these guides if they like, exploring whatever looks interesting to them in each of the different areas of the game. Progression from one area to the next occurs at set locations where players trigger critical story elements, but between these funnel points the game feels open and relatively free and directionless -- though if you do get frustrated and want to get back on the central track, you just have to look for your guide to point you in the right direction. 

The story Rapture tells features a charming cast of characters confronting mysterious and chilling circumstances, and combines the rivalries, romantic jealousies, and misunderstandings that plague many small towns. The developers and voice cast should be commended for managing to present compelling characters without the benefit of visuals, and in a different world much of the story of Rapture would have worked well as a purely-audio game (however that might work) or a podcast in the style of the new (and so far wonderful) Limetown. In addition to the suitable ambient sounds, the game offers a wonderful musical score that uses character leitmotifs in a way I can't recall ever being done so well in a game before.

A leisurely stroll

My biggest problem with Rapture was one that a lot of players shared, and one that has already been addressed by the developers: there's no indication in the game that it's possible to move at a pace above a slow walk. Apparently R2 is the game's secret sprint button, and by the time you're writing this it's very likely an update indicating that control option is already on its way to your PS4. I played through the game without realizing it was possible to go faster, and this minor thing actually had a big impact on the way I played. When I would look around an area of Rapture and consider whether I wanted to explore some distant object for additional bits of story, I often decided that, no, actually, it wasn't really worth it to me, because it would take forever

Playing through Rapture with the sprint feature from the beginning would have made the game different for me, though not, in the end, necessarily better. The slow and deliberate movement and pace to the game was a striking contrast to most gameplay experiences you can have these days, and reading the developers' thoughts on the sprint issue it's clear that they intended the game to be experienced at this slower pace (in a similar fashion to Dear Esther). Because I didn't sprint I may not have explored as many corners of the maps as I otherwise would have, but I spent more time moving slowly, looking at the scenery, and actually thinking about the story. 

If you aren't totally fascinated by every detail of the setting and events, Rapture doesn't offer a lot of incentive to play through again, at least right away, so I'm not likely to dive back in and sprint my way to all the stuff I may have missed the first time around. With some games it's the diversions and side quests which are the most interesting, but to me the part of Rapture that worked the best, and which I found the most interesting, was its central story. Having beaten the game once, I've experienced what that story has to offer, and since there's no branching narrative or critical choices to make while playing the game, the best I could get from a re-play would be to experience that story in a slightly different way -- and that's just not enough of a reason. 

In the end, Rapture offers some solid steps forward in the narrative game world from Dear Esther, but stops short of being the revolutionary experience I think gamers are waiting for. It tells a great story in an interesting way, but it doesn't offer enough in terms of interactivity or replay value to really take advantage of the game medium.