Escape Plan Review
Game: Escape Plan
Developer: Fun Bits Interactive
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation Vita only
With new hardware, comes new technology and new ways to play games. The PlayStation Vita brings all that and then some; the handheld for the hardcore. However, some developers might see the Vita as a way to bring iOS and Android like games to those that may have ever played a Fruit Ninja or Tiny Wings before. Escape Plan is, in so many words, a tech demo. It’s a game that shows the player what the Vita can do with its non-traditional controls. How responsive the touch, tilt and everything else is, whilst bringing a mobile type of game to a different audience. Button purists, look away now…
Escape Plan has a very simple story. It’s about two characters called Lil’ and Laarg – not to be mistaken with the popular 80’s comic duo, Little and Large – who have been held captive by a masked evil guy called Bakuki. Your job, as the player, is to make sure Lil’ and Laarg get out of their black and white prison to safety.
Controlling Lil’ and Laarg is quite simple to explain really. Swipe your finger across one of their bodies to make them walk, tap them to stop. There are also numerous platforms within the environment that can be interacted with, whether it be to move something out of the way, or to use an object to your advantage. This is all performed with the Vita’s gorgeous 5 inch OLED touchscreen and it’s touch pad at the back. Moving the two characters is quite aggravating, they are both really slow and move at a snail’s pace.
As stated, some objects and platforms can be interacted with. For instance, if there is a platform that needs to be used for Lil’ or Laarg to continue their path within a section, you can use the rear touch to bring that platform forward or use the front touch to push it back and get it out of the way. The duo have special features within the game also, if Lil’ drinks some coffee he gets hyper and can move forward quickly, when you grab him via the front and rear touch at the same time, or when you swipe down on Laarg, he’ll hurl his body to the floor in a cannonball fashion. Tilt is also used if one of the characters has inhaled some helium-like gas, or is inside of a bubble. At the start, this was fine and the controls were a nice change of pace from the usual, however, the game does get really boring. Levels stay more or less the same with the puzzles evolving minutely throughout.
With regard responsiveness, the touch controls are implemented well on the front, but from the back, it was difficult to judge where the on-screen area I wanted to interact with was. The Vita never sits in the player’s hands as it normally would when playing a game. It has to be held in a number of ways, as each different puzzle demands it from the player. This leads to accidents on screen by hitting a platform that was in the background, into the foreground when you didn’t mean to via the rear touch, or even worse, sending the Vita to sleep with the power button. The tilt feature is more like an annoying gimmick that just helps the gamer to look ridiculous and feels like a method that was unnecessarily attached, just like the Sixaxis was, over five years ago! The game has bundles of ideas and uses some well, but others are just awfully executed.
The game follows a formula, akin to Angry Birds. For completion of each level within Escape Plan, you are rewarded with a mark out of three stars. These levels can range from 20 seconds to a couple of minutes depending on what exactly needs to be done to advance Lil’ and Laarg’s grand escape. Your goal within these levels is to take Lil’ and Laarg, or sometimes them solely, from point A, where they enter, to point B, the exit of the area. At the start the game is painfully easy, but with progression, comes difficulty. Towards the tail-end of Escape Plan, levels can become really frustrating with Lil’ and Laarg dying over and over again. But, like Angry Birds, why not skip that level and move on? Upon crumbling to your death numerous times, the game will ask you if you want to advance, without finishing that section. Doesn’t seem too hardcore to me.
In all seriousness though, the look of this game is absolutely beautiful. The black and white picturesque feel against the 2D plane is majestic. At times, it’s almost walking a fine line between Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and a Saturday morning cartoon version of Playdead’s Limbo. In between groups of levels, there are quick cutscenes (if you can call them that), that last for a couple of seconds, just to push on the story a small bit. They’re done with still images that also look wonderful. The aesthetic fits the game perfectly and adds another element of charm to the two lead characters. The basic look adds a little more “awww” to the cute factor.
The sound design is terrific. Obviously, when tapping on the rear panel or OLED screen, you may hit many different objects within the world. From hollow walls to piping, from steel girders to sheep, Escape Plan’s extensive audio library brings you into the special land that these characters inhabit. The music is also a thing of beauty. The game is chock full of all those classical pieces that, let’s be honest, you probably couldn’t name, but have been ingrained into your skull from years of watching Looney Tunes. Along with that, there are some really laid back jazz ditties that can calm your nerves if the controls are beginning to become infuriating; which they will.
VERDICT: Even though the game does get some things right – like the music and the overall look – the gameplay gets boring after a while, and far too repetitive. It’s a nice little puzzler in parts, but at the heart of it, I found myself thinking that it was a glorified mobile app at ten times the price of some classics you’d find on the Android Marketplace or App Store. The rear touch was very difficult to judge on screen, the protagonists were slow and plodding and Escape Plan stopped being fun about half way through. With launch titles, developers are only just finding their feet when it comes to the hardware, but from a gameplay standpoint, Escape Plan doesn’t live up to the promise that it seemed like it would. Great music, great look, but ultimately, a mediocre title that could have been much more.