Escape Plan Review
Reviewed on Sony PS Vita
Who needs colour? Colour gets in the way, its vivid brightness boring into your eyes burning your retinas at really quite an alarming rate. Reds and blues and greens; they all think they are so special, so required for any form of modern entertainment to be relevant. Colour is so wrong, that sometimes people spell it color – how awful is that? The solution is evident – abandon the evil of colour, embrace the pull of black and white and never look back. Maybe.
Within a sea of shiny vibrancy Escape Plan stands out as the most unique looking of the PS Vita launch titles. Eschewing the excesses of the colour palette developer Fun Bits Interactive have delivered an artistic masterpiece, the stylised black and white visuals somehow managing to be both Burtonesque and distinctive in and of themselves at the same time. From the very first glance at the Vita’s screen while Escape Plan is playing anyone with a vague sense of aesthetic appreciation will be hooked, drawn to experience more of this unusual world. A product such as this this would need only gameplay to match the visuals to be deemed the undisputed ‘must have’ launch game, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t quite make it to that level.
Escape Plan sees you take control of two lovably weird latex covered doll things, Lil and Laarg, and guide them through a series of death-filled rooms as they try to escape the evil clutches of Bakuki. Seeing as how Bakuki spends all his time coming up with ingenious ways to kill cute latex sheep and booby-trap his domain it’s probably quite a good thing that Lil and Laarg have you. Only probably though, because you are going to be killing them quite a lot – often accidentally, sometimes intentionally. Death animations are humorously gruesome, the splatter of black remains providing a sense of grim humour, almost enough to overcome the sense of failure. The smallest trip or brush with danger will incapacitate the escapees, but as most of the levels take between thirty seconds to two minutes you are never inconvenienced much. Indeed, fail too often in a particular level and the game will throw you a helpful (if embarrassing) message reminding you that you can skip any level you wish and continue through the game to the rest of the puzzles.
You control Lil and Laarg entirely through the Vita’s touch interface, both the front screen and the back pad. The movements required of you are intuitive enough, and Escape Plan actually works as a fantastic introduction to the Vita’s touch capabilities. There are some foibles with the set up however; often a tap or a swipe will manage to move your characters or the environment in an unintended fashion, and this is especially noticeable in levels where you have both characters. If they are standing anywhere near one another you can guarantee the one you didn’t want to move will. At points in the game you need to herd sheep to solve a puzzle, but the interaction between multiple sheep seems sloppy and it is far too easy to end up with two sheep running back and forth over a floor switch despite your furious poking of the screen to get them to stop.
The levels themselves also carry this level of intuitiveness over; while there is no single part of the game that ever really escalates into something too difficult to handle you will often find yourself in a room with no initial idea on how to progress. This leads to a quasi-adventure experience, with you as the player curiously tapping each item or scenery piece trying to find the one that reacts in the way you need. Repetition of features (such as a coffee stand that allows Lil to quickly manoeuvre through certain hazards) never seems to age them as much as they should as the challenges associated with them always bring something fresh to the screen.
Small touches warm your heart and promote connection with the characters; Bakuki’s jumping rage is palpable and humorous, reminiscent of the stereotypical short dictator. The extreme black splatter that Lil or Laarg leave upon their deaths compels you to both beat the challenge and kill them again just to see their insides decorate your screen. While dying gives you no gameplay penalty you will notice that the number on the front of Lil and Laarg is actually their current death total, prompting feelings of mirth, remorse and steely determination all in one. It’s this attention to small detail that grabs you by the ears and drags you into the booby-trapped room.
If the visuals grab your attention, and the small detail keeps it, then it is the sound of Escape Plan that cements the deal. It takes you back to your impression of what any pre-talkies you have seen should have sounded like, the odd piece of canned sound always entirely appropriate to the action on-screen. The most wonderful thing is that the sound in Escape Plan never gets in the way, its inconspicuous excellence complimenting perfectly the visual construction.
There are issues away from the presentation however. As progression never stalls due to difficulty spikes Escape Plan is actually a rather short game, with a first playthrough likely to take you between two and a half and three hours. Longevity here is in the finger of the beholder, as while some will be content to walk away others will be drawn to begin again immediately to find any collectable stickers they missed, or improve on their score for each of the levels (not to mention unlocking all the trophies). The collectables sit in a neutral chair, neither frustrating to find nor compelling. The score you receive for each level is determined both by the time you take to complete the level and the number of gestures you use along the way. Attempts to max your ratings quickly prove to be exasperating; each minor brush on the Vita’s rear touch pad counts as a gesture, and you will soon find yourself holding the device in the most un-ergonomic way you can imagine. The promise of a weekly challenge along with the hint of future DLC should keep the game fairly fresh in your mind, but any player with such a smorgasbord of launch titles to choose from could be forgiven for just moving on entirely.
In all, we can’t help but think that Escape Plan represents a missed opportunity. The wonderfully stunning visuals, the understated sound track and intuitive control system so very nearly elevate the game into a posterboy for the new hardware. However, the short, unchallenging nature of the game moves us away from this territory and instead positions Escape Plan as more of an experience than an outright game, with the nods to cinematic practices of the past aiding its artistic endeavours. Worth checking out? Certainly, when compared to the rest of the Vita launch titles you are unlikely to find another play experience this unique. Just don’t expect it to be your handheld game of the year and you will be fine.