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We Review: Escape Plan

Escape Plan, one of the PS Vita’s download-only launch titles, is a puzzle platform game that sees you guiding two…things…to safety across a perilous series of levels. We take this game for a gruesomely messy run. Will you make it out of this review alive? Let’s find out.

I’m going to say this straight up now, because I know some of you don’t read my reviews all the way the end: Escape Plan is possibly one of the cleverest games on the PS Vita at the moment, and it does a reasonable job of showing off just what the handheld can do. There, those of you too lazy to read my funny and entertaining reviews can beg off now and buy the game, safe in the knowledge that you’re getting something that’s reasonable for its price, if a little finger-dancingly frustrating later on.

Escape Plan, developed by new studio Interactive Bits, follows the adventures of two humanoid blobs of…vinyl?…called Lil and Laarg (or “Little” and “Large” for those without imaginations) as they try to escape Bakuki’s (another blob…we’re all blobs here, mate!) deadly factory, a factory that routinely refines vinyl-ish things into…well, who knows what. More vinyl, I guess. It’s not important, really, because knowing wouldn’t improve the plot. The factory is made of chambers through which Lil and Laarg traverse, and each chamber is a veritable torture room filled with deadly traps, spikes, whirling fans of death, sheep, perilous falls, killer gas, and the like. It’s your job to keep these two safe as they try to escape their grisly fate.

You do very little guiding of Lil and Laarg themselves. You can tell them to move and tell them to stop, but with a few minor exceptions, that’s the extent of it. What you have a lot more control over is the environment itself, and it’s your job to make the environment safe, or as safe as can be expected, to traverse. You manipulate the environment via the PS Vita’s front and rear touch interfaces. Tapping on the front of the PS Vita, for example, acts as a way of pushing things into the scene, while tapping from the back prods them back out toward you. For example, you need to make a perilous fall safe for the twosome, so you tap the rear pad to “push” a mattress that’s leaning against the wall onto the ground, allowing Lil and Laarg to fall without becoming large, mess, vinyl splatters on the ground.

Most of the things you’re pushing, poking, and prodding are things meant to kill Lil and Laarg. Standard pitfalls and disappearing platforms are in here, but there are so many innocuous traps that you have to admire the sheer demented creativity involved, from fans, fly swatters, spikes, and so on. Most of the gameplay will be trial-and-error as you try to figure out how to get the two safely to the exit, but there are some cases where you just don’t see what’s coming. There are also Bakuki’s minions to keep Lil and Laarg safe from, and the occasional annoying sheep to manipulate as part of the puzzles. Sheep are annoying. You often need to use them to stand on buttons to help open doors, and you scare them into moving by tapping on the rear pad. These woolly idiots will happily walk into whatever jaws of death might be waiting beyond them. Sheep are stupid that way. Getting them to stand still is a new kettle of swimmy things, but you can burn that bridge when you get to it.

The game has a small amount of replay value: not only are there collectible signs dotted around each set of levels, but it also awards you a certain number of stars for completing the levels in a certain amount of time and within a certain number of gestures. It’s a way of keeping your movements economical, but you can learn from your mistakes and try to beat your own times and scores.

I must say that Escape Plan is beautifully presented. Yes, it’s in black and white (and all the shades of grey in between, for all you pedants out there), but the art style is endearing, in a fun, blood-spattered way. The entire game feels like a 1950s sitcom, complete with laugh track and applause whenever you do something particularly clever. It’s the little touches, of course, that make the game endearing. As you make your way across the levels, for example, these little doors in the background open up and you can see Bakuki fuming in his control rooms. That sort of thing makes you feel better about escaping, it really does. Or, as another example, there’s a massive number on Lil and Laarg’s bodies that indicate the number of times they’ve died. Macabre, of course, but it’s somehow very fitting with the gruesome style of the game.

Escape Plan isn’t terribly difficult to complete. You could conceivably do it in a few hours over two or three sittings. What it is, however, is difficult to complete well, which means obtaining all the stars in each level. Sometimes the interface can be downright pernickety about registering taps or slides on the touch interfaces. And, of course, because you can’t see where your finger is tapping on the rear touch-pad, you sometimes miss whatever it was you were supposed to be pushing, and that one extra tap might just cost you a star. If you want to see how well you’re doing compared to the rest of the world, there’s a global stats board that shows how well (or badly) the rest of the world is doing.

On the other hand, the controls can get a bit finicky, especially in later levels that make you feel as if you have waaay too few fingers or hands. Because elements within the game are often timed, it means that you end up having to figure out how to push, prod, and poke at the right time so that platforms don’t disappear at the most inopportune of moments. This happens a lot, incidentally, so I suggest you get used to it. Combine that with having to plug leaking gas with your fingers (meaning fingers can’t leave the screen!), and things start getting a bit juggly.

Escape Plan is not the world’s best puzzle platformer, but it’s currently one of the few games on the PS Vita that shows it off nicely. Plus it’s fun, in a somewhat frustrating way. It’s also one of the cheaper PS Vita games on the PSN Store (although by far not the cheapest), and at R125, it’s at least worth the look to see how many gory deaths you can involve Lil and Laarg in, you sadistic ingrate. At the very least, you’re getting a half-way decent charming, if splattery, puzzle platform game that will keep you amused for at least a few hours. If minor bouts of frustration are not for you, though, you can safely leave this review knowing I’ve saved you from death by aggravated hernia.

Final Score: 7 out of 10 gory, splattered prawns

Detailed Information:
Developer: Fun Bits Interactive
Publisher: SCEE
Platform: PS Vita
RRP: R125 (PSN Store only)
Age Rating: 12
Website: http://www.funbits.com/