The best game I've played so far in 2014 is free, twenty minutes long, built on the cheap in the open source Unity engine by a 26-year-old Canadian named Connor Sherlock, and called The Rapture Is Here and You Will Be Forcibly Removed from Your Home. It's his first game.
Here is what happens during those twenty minutes: You are dropped on a hillock, in the countryside, underneath a looming grey disc in a cloudy sky, as weird towers of light pulse in the distance and cheap synthesizers groan. You're left to wander. Walking up to any of the lights triggers a snipped monologue by one of four unseen narrators; the language, tantalizing and vague, is all taken, we find out at the end, from four Lovecraft stories.
That's it. The player is left to speculate about the nature of the disc (which hums whenever you look at it), the stories, the setting; everything. It's a minimal game that uses its few components expertly. I was reminded of Beckett's famous comparison of his writing to Joyce's: "My own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding."
We talk frequently, and with sophistication, about what games do well visually, or mechanically, or narratively, etc., etc. We rarely talk with any specificity about the actual effects that games produce in their players. Does a game make you happy? Sad? Lonely? Angry? Frustrated? Or does it spark in you a more layered sensation or emotion—melancholy, regret, dread, guilt? I've often thought that the impoverishment a lot of 20 and 30-something gamers feel about their hobby simply stems from the fact that mainstream games have stopped producing new sensations for them.
The beauty of this fine game is that in only 20 minutes it produces what to my mind is an extremely subtle mix of feeling and sensation in the player, something incredibly hard to describe, which I've certainly never felt in a game before. The Rapture Is Here... has clear precursors, particularly the indie touchstones Proteus and Dear Esther, but I found it more indelible than either. Play it.
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
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