Though the comic violence of Fun Bits Interactive’s Escape Plan shares much in common with classic Loony Tune cartoons, it forgoes googly-eyed, anthropomorphised animals in favour of a hapless duo decked out in tightly fitting black PVC. It also features similarly PVC-clad sheep, copious amounts of blood splatter, a torture-themed subtext and is found on a handheld that allows you to rub, squeeze and pinch its many surfaces; with this is mind, you would be forgiven for thinking that here is some kind of twisted sadomasochism ‘em-up. Thankfully (or, unfortunately, depending on preference…), this is far from the case, and Escape Plan is actually quietly dark rather than unnecessarily shocking. So, it might not be kinky, but does it avoid being stinky?
The answer to this question, had you been playing the game shortly after its February 22nd 2012 launch, may well have been leaning slightly toward the latter, with many gamers around that time complaining about poorly implemented touch controls and frustratingly limiting objectives. Two months on, Fun Bits has listened to the complaints and criticisms and reworked the game by means of a patch that (in an App Store-esque move) also included additional content free of charge. While post-patch Escape Plan doesn’t mess dramatically with the core concepts of the game, it has been buffed into much ruder health and now feels like the right time to be appraising its charms.
Escape Plan can loosely be described as a mixture of Psygnosis’ classic Lemmings and a traditional point and click adventure. Cast as part-director, part-unseen guide, players are tasked with ushering the PVC fanatics Laarg and Lil through sequential rooms which are stuffed to the rafters with all manner of death traps. Ensnared in a fiendish prison devised by the heinous Bakuki, our heroic duo’s sole goal is to escape….oh, and to avoid being squished, squashed, pummelled, impaled, burnt, poisoned, popped or reduced to a pile of chopped liver.
As this list of possible deaths may suggest, there is a distinctly dark undertone running throughout Escape plan, but in practice the game is actually a fairly sedate affair. After being presented with any given level, your first step is to assess the traps that are laid out in front of you and identify the location of the exit to the next room. Once you have done this, you can set about ushering Lil and Laarg to safety and it is here that things get interesting, as the PlayStation Vita comes into its own with its impressively large suite of inputs.
At its simplest, Lil and Laarg can be directed where to move with a tap of the touch screen or a swipe across their torso; similarly, the pair can interact with items within their reach with another tap. You are not restricted to directing the duo however, and levels are sprinkled with interactive items such as sliding blocks, fans, mattresses, pistons and more, all of which can be manipulated with taps and swipes of the touchscreen and rear touch pad and pinches of both. Certain sections also require that you tilt and turn the Vita itself, such as when Lil inhales gas to be inflated to spherical proportions, with tilts determining the direction in which he floats. The Vita’s many buttons are largely ignored, though an analogue stick assumes camera duties (despite the game’s focus on touch-controls, this actually work rather well).
In its current form, Escape Plan manages to avoid too many frustrations born out of any mechanical or technical issues – taps, pinches and tilts all impact on the gameplay just as you would expect and lend the experience an impressive degree of tactility. With that being said, gleaning enjoyment from the game does require a degree of patience, with a methodical and patient approach being essential to your ultimate success. If you are a fan of twitch gaming or adrenalin pumping action, then this is unlikely to be to your tastes. Strangely, fans of reactively heavily tactical gaming experiences may also find Escape Plan something of a turn off, mainly as the solutions to many of the eighty-odd levels are heavily pre-described, with there usually being only one possible route by which to lead Lil and Laarg to safety; deviate too heavily from this path, and a gruesome death awaits.
The real joy of Escape Plan is how it’s wonderfully realised monochrome visuals complement Fun Bit’s twisted imagination and keen eye for character design. From the first moment you see Lil lolling about on a dirty mattress in a cold, bare prison-cell it’s hard to not to feel a slight tug on your heart-strings and Fun Bits do a consistently great job of making you care about the two unlucky souls who have been placed in your care; it’s as if a much cherished pet had been stolen away and placed in the most horrific of situations.
In terms of the actual puzzling that takes place, Escape Plan doesn’t quite manage to be consistently inspired, but it rarely falls short of being solid, and there is certainly real breadth to be found in the variety of puzzles on show. One minute you’ll be spinning a fan to cool down a pool of molten lava so that Lil can pass, and the next you’ll be helping Laarg to manipulate a circular-saw to trim chains restraining Lil (007 style!). There are also frequent occasions where quick reactions are required to manoeuvre Lil and Laarg into the correct position while you orchestrate the level around them, making sure that blocks, blades and bubbles are placed just so. It’s in these latter moments that, at times, Escape Plan gets closest to being overly frustrating, but as a means of showcasing the finger-twisting possibilities of a multi-touch device such as the PS Vita, there is much to admire. Gamers who really want to put the dexterity of their digits to the test can strive for a perfect 3 star rating on each level, achievable by hitting strict times.
Escape Plan’s biggest problem is its brevity; though eighty levels sounds like a lot, most can be completed in a matter of minutes and, unless you have a burning desire to gain a top score in each there is minimal reason to revisit them. It could also be argued that, despite its striking visuals and quirky sense of humour (the ‘Interlude’ for example, really is a sight to behold), Escape Plan will feel a bit too pedestrian for many – though consistently entertaining, it rarely feels essential and is more than happy to lackadaisically assume the role of idiosyncratic distraction; hardly what you would expect from a launch title for an ambitious new handheld.
When the credits roll, Escape Plan leaves you satisfied of time well spent; getting know its cast of charming characters is a pleasure and its gameplay is largely on the right side refreshing. Though it rarely feels essential, it is a quietly charming game that feels perfectly at ease with its glacial pace, and it is this – along with Lil and Laarg’s PVC-clad charisma – that ultimately enables Escape Plan to meander its way into your heart.
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