Whilst some think Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the second coming of walking simulators, it really isn’t – more like a false prophet than the messiah some seem to think of it. I’ll stop with the religion jokes now. Time to fix EGttR. This game has problems, those with a weakness for the vaguely artistic give it 9s, whilst those who actually understand videogames give it 5 at most; with good reason. We’ll go through the problems and, where possible we will fix them. The story, setting and genre will remain mostly the same - but that’s about it.
EGttR is not too big. The understandable complaint holds that players spend ages walking around a large space containing very little, which creates the impression of a game deliberately designed to be slow and big to drag out the playtime. But this isn’t a problem of size. Big worlds can work, but only when they player has the means to traverse them quickly – whether by horseback, car, plane, or just having a run button. The ‘go into a slight jog’ of EGttR is simply no good; there must be a way to run. Players who want to drink in the setting can do so at their leisure but not everyone wants to; some just want to put together the story. Those people are cooped up by the slow running speed. This is made even worse by the fact that the walking speed of EGttR seems slower than actual walking. Speed things up, and having a big world isn’t a problem.
For a game about navigating, EGttR makes a lot of mistakes here. Some walking games like to make a thing of getting lost, but only one has managed to cause anything other than annoyance and boredom: The Stanley Parable. It made getting lost a central part of its mechanics, challenging the player to off the beaten track and rewarding them for doing so through the fight for control between the narrator and the player. EGttR tries to reward the player with story, but getting lost is very difficult because of arbitrary boundaries. But there is also the fact that of how tricky it is not to get lost. You can’t get lost when you try, but you can’t stay on track if you want to either – at massive cost to the story. Atrocious game design at work there.
To solve the first part of the problem, the arbitrary boundaries need to go. Let players vault over low obstacles like knee-high gates that are locked. If you are going to have a game about exploring to find story, restricting the traversable area to anything less than the area that seems traversable is simply daft, and bound to irritate players who want to find more secrets. That is not to say that everything should be open. Having locked doors and locked gates is fine. But there’s no reason why I cannot jump over the 2ft high wall stopping me from looking at the pub garden – then stick some story there. Let players explore, and then reward them.
The second problem is simply one of a massive design problem: the navigation orb. The orb is supposedly there to take you from main plot point to the next, but it also fucks off randomly – sometimes only for a minute but sometimes it just doesn’t return. On the one hand, this is good. It introduces the player to the idea of exploration and hidden story. However the seemingly fickle nature of the orb only serves to annoy – it should just be there for the first few plot points and then vanish, with the dialogue of the last piece of story hinting that the player ought to look around the town. It should exist to tell the player how the game works, rather than be their erratic guide.
Unfortunately, the player is little more than a glorified cameraman who can push open unlocked gates. There is a world begging to be explored, and all we can do is plod around it at a snail’s pace. Not interacting. Not using the strengths of the medium. If you look at The Stanley Parable or Gone Home, the player is actively involved in the world. Opening draws to find little notes hinting at story. Pressing buttons and twisting dials to get the radio to play. Jumping from a catwalk to get witty remarks from the narrator. The great strength of videogames over other media is that interaction. The idea that the participant truly is a part of the story, and necessary to it. EGttR would have been just as good if not better as a book or a film. Playing EGttR is like watching an oil painter using MS paint.
EGttR should have let players kick the football in the playground, let players smash windows to get into houses, let players jump over low fences and hedges – let them do something! The world is beautiful, but once you’ve seen the same tissue texture 9 times (and we’ll get to that) the charm wears off and there is nothing left. The music, whist lovely, will wear off too. There’s no game to fall back on, and the story is so fragmented that you can’t fall back story to make up for the lack of game. The story and game are kept so separate as well. My moving about should have some sort of impact on either the story or the world, whereas EGttR has the player walking and watching – nothing else of note. Look at The Stanley Parable, and the player has far greater impact on the world, using the strengths of the medium.
The main problem comes back to watching the oil painter using MS Paint: the game does not use the merits of the medium. That just makes it bad at being art, and even worse, bad at being a game.
It is stunning, gorgeous, amazing. Almost photorealistic. But there are cracks in the façade, oversights in the sound design and repetition in the graphics that break immersion, which for a game very much centered on immersing the player in its world – is just not acceptable. For example: here is the game at its visual apex, just look at the lighting at work:
Then you have moments like this, where the reflections don’t work – which break the façade. Hopefully you can see it (I had to get the image from a Youtube video - credit to NerdCubed)
Then there are the reused trees and the identical props dotted about the place. And the fact that almost every tissue is one of 3 clear assets. It’s disappointing. And it breaks visual immersion. Ordinarily this wouldn’t matter much, but for a game billed on its graphics and its world – it matters quite a bit.
There are also doors without handles. And doors without handles that still make the handle jiggling sound (you know the one, when a door is clearly locked but you keep trying the handle anyway) which for a game that wants you to look for details, is shoddy work.
There is also the lack of interaction. The world is static, apart from some gates and the cloth physics. That should not be the case for reasons we have covered.
This brings us onto those fuzzy blobs of identical blobbiness. Every character in EGttR is represented by identical fuzzy blobs. I can’t sympathise with a blob. I can’t care about a blob. I can’t understand who a blob is meant to represent because they are all near identical. The only thing the blobs do is put the framerate down to about 10fps (not kidding – don’t look around when those orbs start chatting). To compensate, the dialogue is riddled with names. But those names don’t always refer to the participants of the conversation and that is confusing, it does not lead to mystery, but frustration. Information conveyed for the sake of mystery should not be confusing – it should be detailed but brief, as that allows the players to piece things together, rather than sit and wonder ‘who the hell were they talking about?’ Have some longer story moments for the sake of variety, as Gone Home did, but don’t make them all long conversations without much meaning. The ambiguity does not create some narrative puzzle, but a confusing quagmire of voices.
Keep things to the point where possible. Make characters visually distinct, or preferably don’t have characters at all. It would have been much better if they’d been absorbed into electronics or something – or even gone entirely, replaced by diaries and post-it notes. That way the player is actually uncovering these people’s stories through interaction rather than watching. The town is deserted, but the personal items of the residents are left behind, waiting for you to have a snoop around. Having to break into someone’s house to look at their diary for a plot point might actually get some emotional feedback from the player as they disturb people’s property, rather than being an emotionally bland spectator tot the blobs.
Sunny Shropshire is nice, I’ve been there, and it’s nice. It’s also boring as hell. And in its digital form, I can’t run away from it, so it just gets worse. The tone varies about as much as a hobo’s bank account.
If you look at Journey – another of the so called walking simulators, you’ll find that tone changes fequently to create a sense of exploration and progress. In the Stanley Parable, changes in tone from bland office to squiggly yellow line with funky music is one that is uplifting, and rewards the player just by existing. There are no such tonal shifts in EGttR to reward or create progress. And while that is an accurate reflection of the tedium of the British countryside, it’s not great game material.
If the player has gone into a house to discover a plot point that changes the tone of the story, the tone of the setting should partially reflect that change. The weather should get gradually worse as the story unfolds – not a change after each individual plot point because that wouldn’t be subtle enough, but the weather should have changed, it should have started raining, developing into a full on thunderstorm near the end. Maybe have the player stumble upon a corpse left behind after the nerve gas attack and read some last diary entry as the thunder comes in. That would vary the tone and make the setting and story have a bit of character, rather than being so beautifully dull.
I don’t mean the plot – we are fixing the Rapture game so the actual plot must stay intact, I mean how the story is delivered. As we have covered, diarys and post-it notes (as shown by the image from Gone Home above) are better than fuzzy blobs – so I’ll keep this bit brief. When the player explores, they should be rewarded, they also shouldn’t have to re-explore the same areas over and over again waiting for something to trigger. So no waiting until you’ve found conversation C before conversation M can happen. Just put it all out there, and let the player find it. The ‘game’ becomes finding these pieces of information and putting them together to solve the mystery, rather than being a literal walking simulator.
So, now that I’ve taken apart some of the main problems with EGttR, what has changed?
Some of those changes are drastic, others minor. If this were a PC game I might try to mod it. But alas, $ony won’t let it happen. Do you think this would work? Or perhaps you liked EGttR, and dropped $20 on being a lathargic cameraman in The Arches. Would you still prefer it with such changes? I’d like to know.