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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Alien worlds, other dimensions, tropical forests, sun-licked beaches and, of all places, Shropshire? Videogames have taken players to fantastical, unimaginable and idealistic locations over the years, but it’s not until you first catch sight of the humbling meadows and towns of the English county seen in The Chinese Room’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture that you realise we still have plenty of places to travel to. Out this week on PlayStation 4, this first-person exploration experience wouldn’t so much benefit from VR support as to be transformed by it.

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There are some PlayStation 4 titles that feel like they were made for VR. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, with its HUD-free presentation, 100% player-controlled exploration and slow, methodical pace put it squarely at the top of this list.

The latest entry in the increasing popular story-driven exploration genre, which was arguably pioneered by The Chinese Room itself with Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is exactly the sort of experience that VR needs in this early stage. It’s a perfect way to introduce the concepts and aims of the technology to any newcomer, allowing them to take their time exploring an environment that lets them breathe. The character’s decidedly slow pacing would stop anyone from rushing off into the land of simulation sickness, as would the complete camera control that they are provided at all times (save for an easily adjustable opening).

Shropshire has been painstakingly brought to life here, with pubs that have an authentic touch in their chalkboard menus and hazy ash trays and the pavements that line the roads fighting small battles for space with vegetation. Makeshift walls spiral along, their jagged tops begging for closer inspection with positional tracking and thick, diverse woods invite you to lose tens of minutes simply wandering about. This is the sort of world that simply deserves to be viewed within VR.

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Of course, there’s also a story to tell and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture makes its own mark telling it. Investigating a deserted down in the face of the apocalypse is a fascinating premise and, while there’s debate as to just how well the title spins its yarn, there’s no doubt VR could help enhance it. As players trek the roads and paths they’ll uncover more of the lives of the village’s inhabitants in the weeks and days leading up to the present. These conversations and actions appear as silhouettes of light, which would be all the more convincing to see in VR. Some have complained that the lack of visual details on these recreated characters makes them hard to connect with, but viewing them as a physical presence in VR may go some way to fixing that.

It’s just a shame, then, that it’s already out. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a novel experience, sure to be remembered by anyone that plays it, but it doesn’t beg for a replay. If support should come then eager early adopters will likely take the journey once more, but it’s a shame that many wouldn’t experience it for the first time in VR. Knowing what’s round the corner certainly diminishes the experience, even if it would allow players to compare and value what VR adds to it.

Some technical glitches would need to be worked on too; you can see the title struggle as it transitions from one time in the day to another. These unsightly blemishes distract on a TV but would pull a VR user out of the experience in seconds. This is a detailed world but also an empty one, and hopefully some optimisation would go into a potential VR version.

But that shouldn’t stop The Chinese Room from seriously considering support (if it isn’t already working on it). Everbody’s Gone to the Rapture would be a must play in VR and one of the best reasons to pick up a Project Morpheus kit early on.