Escape Plan’s plot is about as light as they come – bondage-clad protagonists, Lil
and Laarg, need to escape a series of black-and-white booby-trapped rooms while
a mysterious villain attempts to thwart them. Granted, not much context was needed to draw us into this charming black-and-white downloadable launch title, which makes use of just about every
one of the system’s controls to allow us command not just over the duo, but the
environment as well. We can knock blocks out of the way, spin fans, and push platforms in any direction we please on our way to saving the pair of mute misfits.
time went on we found that it wasn’t the creepy in-game adversary we had to
worry about. No, his frightening mask and devious laugh had nothing on Escape Plan’s real antagonist: the "feeling out" process of a launch game on a new platform.
Above: The duo's different abilities work together nicely
We’re not exaggerating when we say
that Escape Plan makes use of everything the Vita has to offer in terms of
controls. Just about every puzzle-filled room uses both the front and back
touchpad, with many others utilizing the system's motion controls. Tapping, swiping, and turning the system enables actions as simple as swiping across the screen to move
Lil or Laarg, or as complex as pinching the screen to cause a helium-filled Lil
Sometimes we’d need to use several different inputs at the same time, telling
sheep to move with the back touchpad while covering cracks in deadly gas
pipes on the front, or tapping the back pad to move platforms forward and the
front pad to move them back. Timing is key. Precision is important. When it works well, which it does about half the time, it’s an absolute treat, and an
experience unlike anything we’ve played before.
Above: Check out an interview with producer Matt Morton
We didn’t even care when we died at first. We’d tap the
wrong part of the screen and our character would walk into a spike, exploding
in an adorable pop and spraying black blood all over the environment. A few
moments later a new Laarg or Lil would appear with a white number on his chest,
noting how many different characters we’d been through during our playthrough
of the game. It was charming. We were charmed… for a while.
And then we started running into issues, and ones we couldn’t
really blame ourselves for. Escape Plan rewards the player with stars for
using as few inputs as possible. This makes sense, in theory, but whoever
decided this obviously never actually played the game. Any touching of the back
touchpad counts as an input. Moved your hand into a comfortable position while
playing the game? Bzzt. Point off. Mistakenly tapped the wrong part of the back
touchpad because your hands might naturally rest there?Bzzt bzzt bzzt. We’d sometimes tap
next to a character we want to move only to have him spin around, as if he
heard a noise in the distance. That "noise" would be "us tapping an inch
to the left of its head, telling him to move."
Above: Use your other hand to pinch your nose
Losing points, as troubling as it is, is just a symptom of
the game’s larger ailments – a small part of an even more troubling flaw that
permeates every part of the game: the controls (or the game, we’re
not sure) aren’t exact enough. Using the back touchpad is fine when making motions or gestures, but actually tapping a specific part of the back of the system while the camera is moving? That's a bit trickier. It’s a precise game that, too often, leans on imprecise controls.
And it’s a shame, because we only ran into these issues
about half the time. Even in the latter half of the game it felt like every
other level would be wonderfully crafted and well designed, while the other levels were frustrating, requiring
more than we were capable of giving. Pinch the screen and tap the back while we
turn it around? Move this character while we tell that one to stand over there?
Guide the sheep with the back touchpad while the room fills with gas?
Above: Laarg pops like a balloon
tiring, mostly because even after we’d figured out the “trick” to the
solved the “puzzle” we’d run into issues with the controls. We’d devise
the solution, but the roughshod gameplay became the biggest barrier
between our escape plan and the
The ability to skip any level helps alleviate these issue a bit, letting us avoid the roughest portions of the game while admiring the many bright spots. But by the time we finished Escape Plan, our fond
memories of the earlier levels were mixed with vivid moments of frustration, and it was hard to separate the two. Did we love the level where we had to fart our way through a conveyer belt, or did we hate it? Did we skip over the level with the multiple gas pipes, or was it our favorite in the game? Escape Plan is a fantastic concept, and one that often makes use of the system's greatest features to amazing success, but the final product left a great deal to be desired, and left us more than a little conflicted.