Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Escape Plan until I was doing a little digging around the internet looking for a downloadable game to play during an upcoming vacation. I happened to stumble upon some reviews for Escape Plan. Being quite positive, I thought I’d give it a try and dropped the $15 bucks to download the game. After some extended playtime with Escape Plan for the Vita, I am impressed with the games presentation. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the experience.
Escape Plan tells the story of Lil and Laarg. Both are playable characters across 78 levels as you try to escape the clutches of an evil character named Bakuki. There’s no real explanation as to why you’ve been captured. You are simply tasked with helping them escape. Each level is basically a room or area where you must get through. The catch is that each room is filled with traps and things that cause great harm. When I say great harm I am talking about the often graphic death of either Lil or Laarg. As their names suggest Lil and Laarg are quite different in appearance. If you haven’t guessed already, Lil is short and thin, while Laarg is tall and heavy. With such differences come different abilities. The bolder Lil has no problem sucking on a canister of hot air to inflate himself into a balloon where he can use his flatulence for propulsion. The seemingly shyer Laarg can use his size and weight to his advantage to solve puzzles. Things never seem to evolve beyond these one or two unique abilities that are introduced early in the game. Solving puzzles seems to become more about precision and timing than truly evolving the game play beyond what is introduced so early in the game. To put it bluntly, it is the same thing over and over again. So it gets boring with little to drive you to keep playing.
The controls you use to play are almost entirely touch screen based. Occasionally you will use the motion sensitivity of the Vita to steer a character but the only time you will touch the thumb sticks is to zoom and look around each room environment. Simple swipes create movement and you can interact with various objects by tapping on the screen. You will even have to use multi-touch to successfully navigate each room. The problem is that I found the controls far too sensitive. Having to use multi-touch gestures or using both the front and rear screen in tandem often results in having to manipulate the Vita itself in ways that do not feel intuitive. This makes for a lot of do-overs which I found frustrating. The Vita’s a nice piece of hardware. You likely paid good money for it and it is not something you likely can afford to let slip out of your hands. Unfortunately this game may cause you to drop it. I dropped it several times into my lap (thankfully) trying to get through some of the levels. Often the touch controls do not respond as you would like. You frequently will have to wait until a canned animation is complete before your gesture command is accepted. The problem with this is that if you try the gesture too early, it still counts. That sucks for those folks trying to ‘three star’ everything (more on this below). Often you have to quickly swap from touching the front screen to touching the back. You don’t have a lot of time to use the guide by pressing on the back screen lightly to not register a gesture. Instead it becomes a game of hoping you hit the right spot. All of this doesn’t add up to being fun, at least not for me.
When you successfully complete each room you are given a score of one, two or three stars much like what you get in Angry Birds. Your score is based on the time it took and number of gestures you made to complete the level. In order to get three star scores you have to use a bare minimum of gestures within an acceptable time frame. Those hoping to ‘three-star’ everything are going to have to be patient because as I mentioned earlier the controls are very finicky.
The charm in Escape Plan is figuring out the various puzzles. Being a fan of puzzle solving this was easily the most enjoyable part of the game for me. Several levels present a good challenge and some will leave you scratching your head. Thankfully, the game lets you skip levels if you get stuck. I ended up giving up trying to get three stars on each level. Unless I’m hard up for something to play I don’t see myself going back to get three stars on every level. It is just far too much trial and error for my liking. That sort of gameplay drives me bonkers. Maybe I am a little spoiled playing Escape Plan immediately after thoroughly enjoying Mutant Blobs Attack. That said I am disappointed with what I got for $15 when Mutant Blobs Attack was half that price. I cannot help but compare Escape Plan to the aforementioned Angry Birds. Yet in Angry Birds case, the gameplay is far more enjoyable and charming.
Despite my criticisms about how it plays, presentation is where Escape Plan shines. The game plays out entirely in shades of white, black and grey. This monochromatic is used to great effect. It is lovely to look at and really brings out the crispness of the Vita’s screen. It might not push the technical limits of the Vita; however, from an artistic standpoint Escape Plan oozes greatness. Liil and Laarg’s looks are somewhat reminiscent of the design seen in Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas decked out in shiny plastic bodysuits. I got a kick out of the fact that the big white number on their torsos changes in accordance in the number of times you’ve killed them.
A classically themed soundtrack combines with a laugh and applause track that sounds like it was ripped from the taping of a live sitcom. This might sound odd but works really well with the overall aesthetic. There is great detail in the sound. Objects react as you might expect. For example, tap on a pipe and the game responds with an appropriate metallic response. Successes are met with applause and deaths are met with laughter. There is also a subtle echo that gives everything a great feeling of being in a vacant space. That attention to detail is pretty awesome. The overall presentation of Escape Plan is really top notch but be careful not to judge a book by simply its cover.
Escape Plan is the epitome of looks not being everything. I do not think I have ever reviewed a video game that presented such an interesting dichotomy. As neat as some of the ideas and puzzle based elements may be, I hoped for way more for my money’s worth in the gameplay department. If I were judging Escape Plan on presentation alone it would likely receive top marks but the frustrating controls, and trial and error based gameplay really drag things down. Despite great presentation, I cannot recommend gamers drop $15 dollars for this game. There is certainly something to build upon but I would recommend you wait for the sequel in the hopes the development team can refine the gameplay to make it more enjoyable.