"Black and White and Soon All Over"
Escape Plan is the kind of launch title Sony needed to get into the hands of players early, as it gives gamers and developers alike a good idea of how the system can be used in innovative ways to create a bite-sized puzzle experience. Unfortunately, the execution of Escape Plan leaves a lot to be desired. In the end, Escape Plan feels like a glorified tech demo that's over all too soon, yet not quickly enough. Moreover, it struggles to clearly differentiate itself from touch-based puzzle games available to iOS and Android users for far less money.
Taking on the roles of fragile fugitives Lil and Laarg (who look like they could have been pulled from a Tim Burton animated film), players will have to employ all the PS Vita's control mechanics in order to negotiate the deadly levels found in Escape Plan. The goal, as the game's name implies, is to manipulate both the environment and occasional minions in order to free the protagonists from a life of incarceration.
Each level boasts anywhere from one to a handful of deadly obstacles strategically placed by the developers to challenge players. Navigating Lil and Laarg is done by swiping your finger across the characters in the direction you wish them to go. In addition to standard movement, players can also get Lil to float around the levels by inflating him by sucking on pipes, or even get him to sprint past temporary platforms by giving him a cup of joe and a good squeeze. Laarg on the other hand always lumbers around, but his hulking size does allow him to break through floors and walls.
Because each character has unique properties that accumulate over time, levels in Escape Plan are designed to take advantage of each of their skills. Often, players will control both Lil and Laarg in tandem in order to successfully escape, but just as frequently the two are separated by branching routes, allowing players to get more familiar with each convict's quirks. The frequent switching between characters and the regular transition from individual to team tactics provides some needed variety to what can soon become repetitive.
Strategies that must be employed by the player in Escape Plan include pushing platforms into position, raising elevators, tilting the Vita to float around obstacles, herding sheep-like creatures into place, cushioning falls with objects from the environment, and even taunting minions into dying by tapping the rear touch pad; the little enemies are incredibly stupid, happy to jump to messy deaths simply to investigate a strange sound. While these simple strategies are employed in clever ways, it will take seasoned puzzle gamers very little time to figure out the solutions. This is one of the game's biggest problems, as it fails to challenge gamers' minds effectively.
In fact, the bulk of the challenge in Escape Plan comes from the often wonky implementation of the controls. More often than not, players will solve the puzzle long before they are able to complete the stage simply because the characters are so unresponsive, leading to unnecessary death and a level restart. Moreover, the controls layout is frustrating. The lack of direct analog stick control (used exclusively for panning and zooming the camera) and the insistence on the use of touchscreen prompts makes issuing what should be simple movement and positioning commands far too difficult. At times, it feels like a gratuitous juggling act to progress through the game; move the character(s) with a swipe, get the camera into position with the sticks, mislead the minion with a rear touch pad tap, heard the sheep into place with a touchscreen prompt, spin the fan to keep the noxious fumes from overcoming you, raise the elevator to squash the minion, etc.
Also, Escape Plan hasn't much in the way of worthwhile replay value. Once the game has been beaten, all there is left to do is to go back through and get three-star ratings on each level by completing them in as little time and with as few gestures as possible, or to find the hidden caution signs strewn about the stages. The Challenge Mode adds another replay element, rewarding you with a gold Trophy for beating the game without letting Lil or Laarg die 20 times. But, as challenging as these trials can be, most of the fun will be sapped from the game once you've solved the puzzles the first time, so all you are left with is a patience-trying slog.
Escape Plan's presentation is also hit or miss. For me, it definitely missed, though I suppose many will find the black and white color palette and simple creature designs to be charming. Music, while appropriate, is nothing more than sampled classical music and tame instrumental melodies.
Finally, at launch, Escape Plan retails for $14.99. While that might seem like a deal compared to other games available for download through the PlayStation Store, the simple puzzles, suspect presentation, and meager touch controls make the price tag seem extravagant. Escape Plan would be much easier to recommend at $9.99, but even then, this game is a diversion I would expect to pay $2 to $3 for if it were ported to smartphones.
GameDynamo's Score for Escape Plan (PS Vita)
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Cutting his gaming teeth at Aladdin's Castle and on the Commodore 64, JC entered into video game journalism in 2008. Helping run GameDynamo as its director is both a dream and a rewarding challenge.
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