The new PS4 game Everybody's Gone To The Rapture tells two complicated, interwoven stories. Both are good. Both can be a bit hard to follow.
First, there's the story of the people who live in Shropshire's fictional Yaughton Valley in the 1980s. Then there's the story of the apocalyptic Event that caused them to… well, Go To The Rapture.
As you wander the abandoned towns, farms, and parks of Yaughton Valley you'll overhear phone calls, radio conversations, and CB broadcasts, and you'll watch illuminated echoes of real-life conversations. They're all out of order, and sometimes you'll witness a momentous conversation before you fully grasp what it is that makes it so important.
Some of the conversations take place on the night of the apocalyptic Event, while others take place months or years prior. Depending on how carefully you explore, you can miss crucial conversations altogether, and unless you've got subtitles turned on, you may not even realise who's talking until halfway through an exchange. As a result of all that, it takes more than one playthrough to really put everything together.
WARNING: IT'S ALL SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
I finished Rapture last weekend. I really liked it, so I went back and began playing again. As I did so, I found myself taking notes and diagramming the characters and timelines depicted over the course of the game. Eventually I had a comically complicated collection of notes, which has led me to write this overlong article.
The more I pieced together who was who and what they were talking about, the more engrossed I became in the lives of Yaughton Valley's residents. Over the last couple of days, it's become a minor obsession. There's a good chance that no one else really cares about unravelling this game to the same extent I do. Well, I already stayed up really late writing this! So here we go.
As with all things of this nature, there's a good chance I've got a couple of my facts wrong. If that's the case, I hope you'll let me know — I'll happily update this article to make it as accurate as possible.
The most important characters in Rapture are two scientists: Stephen Appleton and his wife, Dr. Katherine (Kate) Collins. They met in America, and Kate has agreed to return to Stephen's hometown in rural England in order to work at the Valis Observatory, focusing on astronomy theories that involve decoding numerical patterns in the stars.
Wendy Boyles is Stephen's mother, an assertive, widowed septuagenarian who has the run of things in Yaughton Valley and tends to get involved in other people's business. Her brother, Frank Appleton, runs a farm in the valley and is still grieving the loss of his wife Mary, who recently died of a terminal illness. Father Jeremy Wheeler is the local parishioner, and is dealing with a crisis of faith. Lizzie Graves runs the Lakeside Holiday Camp in the northeast part of the valley. She and Stephen were once engaged; he left her and moved to America, where he eventually met, fell in love with, and married Kate.
The Event, The Pattern, And The End Of The World
The Event is basically The Rapture — it's the mysterious apocalypse that is the focus of the game's primary storyline. It begins when Stephen and Kate discover a pattern in the stars during a celestial event and then amplify it using the telescopes at Valis Observatory. In doing so, they release a form of intelligent light energy known as The Pattern, which begins to aggressively spread through the valley. The pattern quickly adapts to travel faster and farther, all while infecting and eventually consuming every human with which it comes into contact.
Upon first amplifying the pattern at the observatory, both Stephen and Kate are burned by radiation from the telescope. The burns form a pattern on their faces, likely the same pattern that's found strewn all about Yaughton in the game.
(Above: At one point later on during the Pattern's spread, Stephen spills some paint and it flows out of the can in the shape of the pattern.)
They have an argument about what to do next; Stephen leaves to see what's happening outside, while Kate locks herself in the observatory to continue studying the Pattern and attempting to figure out what it is.
Stephen soon realises that the pattern is manifesting itself outside of the observatory and all across the valley. Alarmed, he races on his bicycle from place to place, attempting to judge the extent of the the Pattern's spread and what kind of damage it may cause. At first, the Pattern seems to try travelling through birds, and soon all the birds in the valley are dead.
Meanwhile, people have begun to disappear all around Yaughton. First, it's some people up at the Yaughton Holiday Camp — an old guy named Mr. Coles along with another elderly couple. Then, an elderly lady named Mrs. Baughton down in Yaughton proper. Soon more disappear.
Eventually Stephen learns the symptoms that accompany human contact with the Pattern — people start by getting nosebleeds and headaches, then begin haemorrhaging and eventually die or disappear. He spreads charts and maps all about his house, keeping track of "markers" he's seen around the valley and places where the pattern has turned up, all while desperately trying to find a way to stop its spread.
(Above: A map found in Stephen's home documenting where the Pattern has manifested across the valley.)
Stephen contacts a man named Clive Smith who works for the local Emergency Measures Committee and convinces Clive to enact a quarantine on the entire valley. As a cover, the EMC tells everyone there's a flu outbreak. Stephen then determines that the Pattern isn't travelling from person to person, but that it's learned how to travel through phone lines. He gets the EMC to cut the phone lines out of the valley, which they do just in time — as they cut the lines at a major nearby telephone juncture, the Pattern has seized control and begun dialling random outgoing numbers on its own.
Stephen soon realises that even the phone lines won't contain it — the Pattern is continually learning and evolving, and it's already figured out a way to transport itself without needing active phone lines. He decides that the only way to permanently stop the Pattern is to convince Clive and the EMC to call in a nerve-gas airstrike on the valley, killing everyone and removing the Pattern's primary source of energy — humans.
Clive eventually agrees to call in the strike, despite the fact that his own family lives in the Valley. (Stephen is a pretty convincing guy, I guess!) Meanwhile, Stephen's uncle Frank (Wendy's brother, who owns the farm) overhears Stephen and Clive on his own ham radio and realises what Stephen is trying to do. Frank has a near-violent confrontation with Stephen, then goes up to the nearby windmill and activates an old air-raid siren in an attempt to warn everyone. The planes drop their payload, the nerve gas spreads, and everyone (presumably) dies.
In the end, Yaughton Valley is empty. Stephen survived the gas by hiding out in an underground bunker, but he is taken by the Pattern (or maybe he accidentally sets himself on fire, it's not quite clear) shortly after that. Before he dies, he attempts to raise Clive on the radio but gets no response from him or anyone else. We're left to infer that the airstrike was unable to stop the Pattern's spread, and that it has moved beyond the valley and claimed the rest of the world.
As for Kate... well, that's a little more complicated. We'll get to her in a bit.
The Lives of the Townspeople
Those are the events of the capital-S Story. But the deeper satisfaction of Everybody's Gone To The Rapture comes from understanding the non-apocalyptic echoes left behind by the valley residents' everyday lives. For every frantic radio call from Stephen or cryptic research memo from Kate, there's a memory from a longer time ago, as two or three townspeople met, talked, and wove a thread or two into the valley's ever-growing interpersonal cross-stitch.
That bigger story is divided into six chapters, which you discover in order as you make your way clockwise through the valley. The chapters are named for Jeremy, Wendy, Frank, Lizzie, Stephen, and finally Kate. You'll be guided through each chapter by a globe of light that wordlessly reflects the personality of the character for which the chapter is named — Jeremy's orb moves carefully and thoughtfully; Wendy's is pushy and assertive; Frank's is steady and sometimes emits a sound like the respirator that kept his wife alive; Stephen's is frantic and agitated; and Lizzie's… well, we'll get to Lizzie's in due course.
For now, let's break this down by chapter.
Part One: Jeremy
The story starts with Father Jeremy. It's a good way to begin, since as the resident man of the cloth, Jeremy gets around town a lot and talks with lots of people.
During Jeremy's chapter we meet Dr. Phil Wade, a doctor at the local surgery (doctor's office) and his assistant Barbara, both of whom turn up at various points throughout the story. Dr. Wade is doing his best to deal with increasing public panic as the Pattern infects the populace, and eventually he succumbs to the nosebleeds, too. We also first meet Amanda, who along with her husband Neal and their children attempted to leave Yaughton but were overcome by Pattern-sickness and wound up holing up in Barbara's by-then-abandoned house.
Early on in Jeremy's chapter we learn that there's a rift between him and Wendy concerning the death of Mary, the late wife of Wendy's brother Frank. (Remember, these memories mostly come from well before The Event.)
Mary had become terminally ill and was in great pain. Wendy learned that at Mary's request, Jeremy helped her administer a lethal dose of morphine, ending her suffering. Wendy harshly reminds Jeremy that God will judge him for his actions, and seems unwilling to forgive him, regardless of what Mary may have wanted.
Throughout the later chapters we see Jeremy from time to time. He walks the valley, finding and helping people in need and offering words of kindness and guidance to his parishioners. In one key scene, he sits with Frank, and Frank thanks him for helping Mary take her own life. He says that Jeremy did the right thing, and that he wishes he could've been strong enough to be there for her.
Later, during Wendy's chapter, we see Jeremy and Wendy together again. It's evening on the night of The Event, and Wendy finally forgives Jeremy. She tells him that Mary loved him very much, and apologizes for judging him so harshly.
Jeremy survives longer than everyone around him, and eventually finds himself alone in front of his church in Yaughton proper. He angrily calls out to God, and the Pattern seems to speak back to him. He hears it, and appears to think it's the voice of God — standing at altar in his church, he calls out to God before evaporating into light.
Part Two: Wendy
By the time Wendy's chapter rolls around, we already know her as the hard-nosed woman who was so rough on Jeremy. Her husband Eddie was a war veteran who died young — it's never quite clear what happened, but he apparently never fully recovered from the war, whether physically or mentally.
Wendy doesn't approve of her son Stephen's new wife Kate, saying that Yaughton "isn't her place." She bristles at the insinuation that this is because Kate is black; rather, Wendy insists, it's because Kate, an American, is an outsider who will never fit in. (It's probably at least a little bit the race thing, but who knows.)
Wendy doesn't think Stephen should have left Lizzie when he did, and still wants them to get together, despite the fact that Lizzie is also (unhappily) married. She arranges for Stephen and Lizzie to get a drink together, which winds up serving as the spark for their affair.
Wendy also turns up in a nice scene during the night of The Event in which she discovers Howard Lantham, a Falklands war vet who now runs the Yaughton train station, having a panicked PTSD flashback under the table in his office. Wendy bursts in the door, gets him up, and helps him come to his senses. It's a small but important illustration of how her forceful personality helped hold the community together.
In the end, Wendy is left alone under the stars with a bag full of dead birds she's been collecting as she walks through the valley looking for — but never quite finding — her son Stephen. (The dead birds thing isn't as creepy as it sounds; it's mostly just sad. She loved watching birds.) Wendy hears the planes coming and calls out to her lost husband Eddie, who she hears flying home to her from war. She vanishes.
Part Three: Frank
Frank owns and operates the farm in the middle of the valley. There's no love lost between him and his nephew Stephen, though I never got a sense of why that is. He's good friends with a man named Charlie Tate, and the two are Ham Radio enthusiasts who go by the callsigns "Lost Cowboy" and "Travelling Sherlock," respectively. He employs Rhys, who we'll get to know a little later, and is also friends the station manager Howard Lantham.
Much of Frank's story intersects with the main narrative that I've already recapped; his most important character note happens earlier, when he thanks Father Jeremy for doing what he couldn't and helping Frank's wife Mary end her life. He is friendly with Kate, and appears to be the only townsperson to open up to her; he sympathizes with how the rest of the town won't accept her, and they seem to get along well.
After learning that Stephen has convinced Clive to call in an airstrike, Frank takes Howard's air raid siren up to the windmill on his property to try to warn everyone. While he's sounding the siren and waiting for the end, he comes to terms with the fact that he failed Mary. She was at peace with her own death, and asked him to stay with by her side as she died. He wasn't strong enough, so he left her alone and went to the pub instead. In his final moments, he says that he's now strong enough to be there for her, and as the planes fly in and drop their bombs, he evaporates into light.
Part Four: Lizzie
After Stephen left her ten years ago, Lizzie had some sort of an accident that left her crippled and unable to walk properly. She's now married to Robert Graves, an alcoholic who owns an auto shop in Yaughton proper. (No one seems to think much of poor Robert.) Lizzie runs the Lakeside Holiday Camp, a large campground north of the lake.
Lizzie first meets Kate after Stephens return to Yaughton. Kate is cold and dismissive, while Lizzie offers nothing but unflinching British politeness. After Wendy arranges for Lizzie and Stephen to meet up for a drink, he tells her that he regrets leaving her. It's later revealed that Kate learned of that initial meeting, but their relationship was already in pretty big trouble at that point. Rather than being jealous, Kat is mostly just angry that Stephen thought he could keep it from her. Sometime after that, Lizzie and Stephen rekindle their romance and begin sleeping together.
As you follow Lizzie's glowing light around the Holiday Camp, you may notice it has a second, smaller ball of light orbiting it. That's because Lizzie was pregnant with Stephen's child when she died. Her pregnancy is first hinted at by Father Jeremy, who meets her on the campground and chides her for smoking a cigarette "in your condition."
Before the Pattern has learned how to transmit itself across long distances, a panicked Stephen — who knows ahead of everyone else how bad this really is — makes Lizzie promise to meet him in secret and escape through an unguarded train tunnel just as the quarantine is going into effect. He's on his way to meet her when he realises that the Pattern has become able to transmit itself without phone lines, which means that the quarantine won't work and their escape is futile.
Stephen abandons his plan to leave with Lizzie and heads off to call Clive and beg him to call in the airstrike. Left alone at the train station, Lizzie leaves Stephen a message telling him she's going on without him because she has to think of the baby now. As she hangs up, the planes fly in, dropping the gas. She and her baby vanish into the light.
A few supporting characters factor into Lizzie's storyline. Most prominently there's Rachel Baker, a 16-year-old whose mother and father Evelyn and Sam Baker have sent her off to work for Lizzie at the camp for the summer. Rachel is in love with a boy named Rhys, a reformed juvenile delinquent who works for Frank at the farm. Her father Sam is an ill-tempered man who, we are led to believe, would not approve of Rachel and Rhys's courtship.
There's also Sean and Diana (Di), a Welsh couple who make their way into the camp along with their baby, Baby Dylan, during The Event. As Sean and Di were hurrying to get out of town, they had a car accident with Lizzie's husband Robert — who was drunk and driving his truck on the wrong side of the road — ending with Robert's truck crashed into the river and Robert possibly wounded or dying.
Sean and Di panic about their dwindling time to escape ahead of the quarantine and leave Robert in his truck, taking shelter at the camp and haltingly confessing to Lizzie what happened. Rachel takes baby Dylan off of their hands temporarily, but eventually Sean and Di vanish, leaving Rachel alone with the baby.
(I'm not certain of this, but I believe Sean and Di may have been the couple who, as revealed during Wendy's chapter, tried to escape on the train tracks and were run over by the train, derailing it. I'd have to go back and listen to their later conversations to be sure. Some characters hint at how the two of them never wanted Baby Dylan, so it makes sense they'd leave their kid behind and make tracks.)
Lizzie's resolution — and the confirmation about her baby — both occur during Stephen's chapter. Lizzie's own chapter actually closes with a big scene involving Rachel.
Stuck at the camp, Rachel and Rhys temporarily put their plans to flee on hold because Rachel has to look after Baby Dylan. When Lizzie leaves, Rachel is left in charge of the rest of the kids at camp, as well. The children have been rehearsing a summer production of Peter Pan, and Lizzie has Rachel get them into the main hall to rehearse and keep their minds off things. Rachel sits on the stage and sings a lullaby to Baby Dylan as the planes fly in, dropping their payload on the camp, the kids, and the rest of the valley. Bummer.
Part Five: Stephen
Stephen's narrative weaves through all the others. Since Kate is locked in the observatory while he runs around like a madman outside, he has the most opportunities to interact with the rest of the cast.
Over the course of his story, we see Stephen fall back in love with Lizzie, fight with Kate, and run into a few of the other until-now bit-players. We see him preparing to move into a house in Little Tipworth, where he hopes he and Kate can be happy and make a life, despite Wendy's doubts. And we see him growing increasingly agitated as he comes to terms with the unstoppable nature of the Pattern, running into confused townspeople without explaining himself and generally pissing everyone off.
In one out-of-place scene, Stephen runs afoul of Rachel's father Sam Baker when Sam finds Stephen stealing supplies out of his warehouse. Stephen tells Sam to stay back or risk being infected by the Pattern; Sam attacks Stephen, and Stephen hits and possibly kills Sam with a hammer. Shop owner Meg Holloway and Frank's friend Charlie Tate witness the fight, and the whole thing is jarring and doesn't really fit with the other events in the game. But, it happens, so…. yeah.
After Stephen realises that all hope of non-violently containing the Pattern is gone, he convinces Clive to drop nerve gas on the valley. He leaves a message for Kate at the observatory, saying the the two of them will be the last humans alive in the valley, and that they have to kill themselves after the gas clears to ensure that the Pattern dies with them.
Stephen then locks himself down in an underground utility area, where he prepares to kill himself. He's unable to reach the outside world on the radio, and realises that it's likely the Pattern has spread beyond of the valley and that the world is ending.
While in the utility bunker, Stephen recounts a story from his childhood. When he was younger, his father Eddie, home from the war, took in a wounded fox and attempted to nurse it back to health in the shed behind their home. Stephen tried to go back and feed it, but it bit him. His father killed the fox, explaining to Stephen that it didn't even know what it was doing — it was just a wild animal. Stephen says he believes the Pattern is no different. It doesn't realise it's hurting people, because it's just an animal intelligence.
In his final scene, Stephen stands in a room filled with gasoline, prepared to drop a lighter and kill himself. (Dramatic much?) As he stands there, the Pattern appears to him and he angrily challenges it, waving his lighter and telling it that once he's gone, it will be all alone again like it was before it arrived on Earth. Suddenly he sees Kate in the Pattern, and, mystified, calls out to her before accidentally dropping the lighter and (apparently) burning to death. Whoops.
Part Six: Kate
Kate's chapter is where things get dicy. There's so much room for interpretation you could drive an interpretation-bus through it and still have room to tango. But, whatever, I'll go over what she says and what I think it means, based on what she, Stephen, and others have said about the Pattern, the light, the symptoms, and the rapture.
Throughout the game, we've come across Kate's scattered research logs as she stays in the observatory with the Pattern, studying and communing with it. In the final chapter, we climb toward the sixth tower at Valis Observatory. At each of the five sub-towers, we listen to one of Kate's audio logs, which chronicle her time with the Pattern. She appears to to have learned to communicate with it, sharing her consciousness and senses with it.
Kate has been cut off from the rest of the valley, and manages to stay alive even after the gas drops — she believes that the Pattern keeps her from dying. She confirms that the Pattern has overtaken the wider world: "Everything is light now," she says, "everything has come to rest." She's apparently been exploring the town and has found the lights that remain of the valley's residents — she has photos of them up at one of the towers.
After communing with the Pattern for an unknown amount of time, Kate says that she is now connected to all things. Before, when she looked at the light coming to our planet from so many dying stars, she didn't understand — but she says she does now. She says that she knows about Stephen and Lizzie — since she sees everyone and everything — but that she forgives them and wishes them happiness. She talks about how the Pattern shows everyone happy: Jeremy has found God, Wendy has been reunited with Eddie, Frank is with Mary, and Lizzie and Stephen are together.
"We have each other," Kate says in her final audio log, presumably addressing the Pattern itself. "We lived apart from them; we understand now. Our failure to touch, to belong. But it doesn't matter anymore. Everybody is gone, and we will join them. We are born apart, driftwood on the banks of an endless dark ocean. And we will be carried away by the swell soon enough. But in between, in a single day of living… that dancing in a strip of sunlight, we can find what we miss. The love that makes us whole. The imminence. Everybody found their other. This pattern is mine."
OK, So What Does It All Mean?
Kate's whole spiel can be read a lot of different ways, and there are already a lot of theories floating around online. Some people posit that Kate is part alien, and that the events of the story depict her reunion with a long-lost counterpart. It seems plausible that the light would be an actual alien life form, since the first alien life humans encounter could well be something that exists outside of our reckoning, a light or gas or frequency that isn't even "conscious" in the way we understand the word.
The alien life-form theory is fine, but I like the more abstract (if obvious) reading: All light in the universe has always been special; it contains the experiences and memories of the sentient beings it has absorbed. The Pattern is that light in its purest form. It's a sort of singularity — the unification of all consciousness and time into a single eternal moment. By recognising the pattern in the stars' light and amplifying it, Kate and Stephen brought it down to our world, where it could leap through our lines of communication and take us into itself.
Kate says that we each have an "other;" a person or entity that makes us whole. Frank has Mary, Wendy has Eddie, Jeremy has God, Stephen has Lizzie, and so on. Kate's other is the Pattern itself, which… well, that doesn't make total sense, but hey, that's what she says. After being taken into the light, each character finds their other and is happy for ever and ever, amen.
So... maybe less an "apocalypse" and more of a "really really great thing that happened," I guess.
What's With The Clocks? All the clocks in the game are set to 6:07. Kate says that the computers in the observatory set themselves to 6:07 on June 6, 1984. Does that combination of date and time mean something? Some sort of reference? Maybe a Bible passage? (Aren't these things usually Bible passages?) Do those numbers somehow line up with the numbers Kate is always reading on the radio?
What's With The Symbol? It stands to reason that the infinity-ish symbol represents the Pattern itself, but it's not quite clear why it's in SO many places. For example, a lot of the cars in the game have the symbol on the front grille. What's that about?
What's With "The Mourning Tree"? The Mourning Tree is the name of one of the pieces in Jessica Curry's (exceptional) original score, and sheet music for it is found on pretty much every piano in the game. It's probably just a reused texture, but maybe the music on the page harmonizes with the sequences on the radio and in the Pattern? I want to believe.
Did Everyone Physically Die, Or What? It's actually kind of unclear what happened to everyone. There are dead birds around, but no dead cows, though we know Frank's cows all died. There are no dead people, either. Did they die from the gas, or did they turn into light? Early on, Clive describes the progression of symptoms as going from headaches, to nosebleeds, to hemorrhages, and then "...just light, whatever the hell that means." OK, but what does that mean? Presumably someone has kept an eye on an infected person as they crossed over, right? Why didn't anyone talk about that?
When Lizzie is discussing the missing people up at the campsite, two people describe smelling ash after visiting the homes of the vanished. Do people leave ash behind after they evaporate?
I assume that some way or another, the people who vanished "turned into light." But what about the people who were gassed? What about Stephen, who accidentally lit himself on fire? What about Sam, who Stephen clubbed to death but whose body is still strangely missing? If the light is some infinite singularity that combines all consciousness into one entity, I suppose the way people get there is sort of moot, but it'd be a comfort to know all those little kids didn't actually die from nerve gas…
Who Is The Player? It's also (deliberately) unclear who the player is meant to be. It seems logical to assume that we're Kate, exploring the town before she merges with the light and departs. But that doesn't quite track, given that Kate addresses the player directly at the start of the game and instructs us to look to the light for answers. Maybe we're the pattern itself? Maybe we're a walking, gate-opening singularity, fondly reliving that one time we arrived on Earth and ate everyone? Sure, why not.
I could go on for another thousand words — we haven't even pondered the fate of Terry and June's dog Harvey — but I think that will do for now. Looking at everything in one place, I'm struck by how complicated Rapture is for such a simple-seeming game. That narrative depth is doubly impressive given that the stories I've outlined are delivered out of order, yet in such a fashion that an attentive observer can still piece them together.
I'm certain there are plenty of details and clues that I've missed. If you've got any theories or observations of your own, I hope you'll share them below.