Escape Plan makes the jump from PS Vita to a larger, more mainstream audience on the PlayStation 4. The port of the Vita launch title retains the crisp black and white visual design, reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie, the minimalist story with wacky humor, and the challenging puzzle-platform gameplay. The biggest difference is the control scheme, adapted from the PS Vita’s front and back touch controls to the Dual Shock 4 which works surprisingly well with protagonists, Lil and Laarg, on a mission to escape the clutches of the mysterious Bakuki.
Escape Plan’s story is told through comic-style cutscenes, but it doesn’t always make sense. I find it interesting because people are fascinated with observing other people. You control Lil and Laarg, but you are constantly being watched by Bakuki which gives this foreboding sense of being a pawn in some strange experiment. Frankly, that is most evident in the very first room where Lil’s door is open for some reason. I realize I might be looking too deep into the narrative, but if Bakuki doesn’t want his minions to escape, why doesn’t he keep their doors locked?
If you aren’t a fan of the simplistic black and white design and ambient, classical music, this game probably isn’t for you. Not that I want to dissuade anyone from trying it, but it would be easy to pass this one up as just another one of “those” indie games that is based on looks and sound alone. The music blends into the background of the experience and does well to soothe the sting of repeatedly trying to complete a level over and over again. It even provides some comic relief with a rather odd interlude between areas and an enjoyable end sequence that fits the game’s theme perfectly. Lack of color is secondary to the overall visual presentation with each deadly stage meticulously crafted for a specific escape plan. Your job is to guide the unlikely heroes from room to room while Bakuki does what he can to prevent your escape.
How you guide them is the most important part of Escape Plan. The DS4’s motion control translates flawlessly from the original version. The front touch screen and back touch pad on the Vita have been repurposed to make use of the DS4’s own touch pad. It really is hard to say which is better because, at some point, both games feature stages where the controls become more of a hindrance. I actually prefer the PS4 version because using the back touch pad on the Vita can be especially difficult in regards to very specific timing. It is especially hard to see a small black cursor on the Vita screen that is used to tap objects in order to move them. The DS4 thumbstick replaces that functionality, changing the complexity of the game into more of a point-and-click adventure instead of the intended puzzler. It still doesn’t change the fact that this game requires strategy and timing, regardless of the input system.
Lil and Laarg have their own abilities thanks to their contrasting sizes. Lil can suck on helium to blow up like a balloon and float through areas. He can also drink coffee that gives him quick boost abilities. Laarg can roll through or butt-stomp breakable walls and floors. Escape Plan is especially fun when navigating a stage using both characters, which really doesn’t seem to happen often enough. Death comes in many forms. You will trip, fall, and suffer being smashed, gassed, and electrocuted. Most stages, especially later in the game, require trial and error. Some are easier than others, but there’s a few that will test your controller-throwing limits. You could literally knock this game out in one sitting over a few hours or less. The trick isn’t so much beating the game as much as it is how well you do it. Even if you get stuck on a level, you can simply skip it and move on, which actually provides a breath of fresh air to other games that force you to beat your head against the wall until you get it right.
But therein lies the problem. While the sum of the whole can be challenging and entertaining, some stages can literally take 10 seconds to finish. Most won’t require more than 30 seconds to one minute tops. Each stage is scored up to three stars. The faster you complete it and the less inputs you use, the better the score, so exploration is actually penalised, which detracts from the experience. For a game that looks so good, it sure doesn’t want you wasting any time soaking it in, and I find that a little unfortunate.
Escape Plan isn’t the most successful puzzle or platform game, but the PlayStation 4 version is an improved port of its handheld counterpart. The conversion to the Dual Shock 4 is smooth and I prefer it to fumbling my way around the touch screen and touch pad on the Vita. The charming chiaroscuro graphics look superb on the big screen, but I just wish the game didn’t push me so hard to beat each room so fast. Overall, there’s a fair amount to admire about Escape Plan, but running the gauntlet at breakneck pacing doesn’t do it justice.