Review: Escape Plan

EscapePlan

It’s a nice coincidence: In a year in which the best picture Oscar winner was a black and white silent film, one of the PlayStation Vita’s best and most creative games is also a monochromatic masterpiece. We’re talking, of course, about Escape Plan, the artistic downloadable puzzler from the development team that gave us Fat Princess.

You’ve heard of it, certainly, since it figured prominently in Sony’s Vita promotion campaign. You’re charged with guiding our twin protagonists, Lil (the thin one) and Laarg (the chubby one) out of the industrial laboratory/warehouse of the malevolent Bakuki. More specifically, it’s your job to guide them safely through 78 booby-trapped rooms using the Vita’s various touch-screen controls.

Touch control integration in Escape Plan is intriguing and generally deft. You swipe to get Lil and Laarg to begin shambling, then tap to make them stop. Certain objects in the environment can be manipulated by tilting the Vita or swiping or tapping the front and back screen. The game tabulates all your various gestures, and you’ll earn more three-star level ratings for being economical with your fingers than you will for going all tap-happy.

That said, the latter’s likely what you’ll have to do to get your bearings. Even though some of the puzzles are seriously minimalist (spin fan, open door, voila) many don’t make it immediately clear what you’re supposed to do, and the process of trial and error will boost your gesture count as much as the annoying accidental backscreen touch. If you’re smart, you’ll learn quickly that things like light fixtures and circuit boxes don’t play into the action. Using the analog sticks to pan the room, one of the few non-touch aspects of Escape Plan, is also a good strategy.

There are a few times when the Vita’s touch recognition seems to be a double agent working for Bakuki. In one sorta annoying room, tapping the back screen to distract a blow-dart shooting baddie while tapping to quickly close a panel and swiping to guide Laarg past an electrical field becomes a finger-based comedy of errors. (Luckily, you can skip levels that become too annoying.)

I found the hardest move to execute to also be one of the most critical: Getting your escapees to dash past timed traps and obstacles, which requires pinching the front and back of the screen at their midsection. Again, if you miss your timing or, worse, the Vita doesn’t recognize what you’re trying to do, the death-count number displayed on the front of Lil and Laarg’s black bodysuits will tick upwards yet again. Nice touch.

The puzzles are clever, but Escape Plan’s monochrome art style is what really puts the game over. Stamped somewhere between Edvard Munch and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the inhabitants of this house o’ horrors are both adorable and unsettling. The splats of black, brackish blood that accompany most of your deadly mistakes somehow fit with the game’s classical soundtrack and the live sitcom touches, like an unseen audience that laughs, gasps and claps at Lil and Laarg’s antics. It’s puzzle gaming distorted through the lens of a Nabokov novel.

Even with a few niggling control drawbacks, Escape Plan remains one of the Vita’s best launch options. Fire up the PlayStation Network and add it to your Download Plan.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Gorgeous black and white art style is simultaneously charming, creepy
+ Solving puzzles with touch controls is a snap—or a swipe
+ Puzzles are clever and devious, but never unfair
+ Odd touches, like a sitcom laugh track, add to the bizarro vibe

Cons:
– Some gestures don’t register gracefully
– Wayward gestures can cost you level stars

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation Vita (PSN download exclusive)
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Fun Bits Interactive
Release Date: 2/14/2012
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.