Mr. ESC is back in action in Exit 2, the sequel to the stylish and clever puzzle platformer Exit. For those who enjoyed the original, Exit 2 offers a heaping helping of new levels with a few new puzzle elements thrown in to freshen things up. Those who have yet to make Mr. ESC's acquaintance will find that he is a dashing if occasionally clumsy hero who specializes in leading survivors out of dangerous situations. Playing as Mr. ESC, you'll navigate environmental hazards, use helpful items, and deal with the limitations of your rescued citizens to lead them to safety. This visually stylish game is both engaging and frustrating, but the sheer amount of puzzles means there's always another one to try if you get stuck. While many of the levels require exacting logic, anyone looking for a tough yet satisfying mental exercise will be well pleased with Exit 2.
Before you can lead survivors out of a subway system or journey to Egypt, you'll have to get the hang of controlling Mr. ESC. He can walk, run, crawl, and jump, and he moves much like the original Prince of Persia; his walk is deliberate and his run carries some unwieldy momentum. He's usually good about stopping short of walking off of ledges that will break his leg, but he's not entirely reliable, so you have to be careful when maneuvering him in dangerous spots lest you fall and have to restart the level. Honing your navigation skills is essential to success, so you'll soon be well acquainted with how far Mr. ESC can fall and which boxes he can push. Half of the challenge of Exit 2 is figuring out where to move Mr. ESC and when to push a box or pull a switch. The other half is wrangling survivors.
When you encounter survivors, you wake them out of their "sit here and whine intermittently" stupor and get them to follow you. Early in the game you encounter six types of survivors (the dog and macho types are new for Exit 2), all with their own strengths and limitations. For example, a macho can push heavy objects and has a high vertical leap but a short horizontal jump. They all have different degrees of agility and strength (except for the patients, who must be carried), and each puzzle will require you to use their abilities and accommodate their weaknesses to deliver them to the exit.
In addition to ordering survivors to follow you or stay put by pressing the left bumper, you can use the right analog stick to move a ponderously slow cursor around the screen and issue commands. By clicking the stick or pressing the Y button, you can command able survivors to pull levers, push objects, or go from point A to point B. However, if there is a change of elevation between point A and point B, you may run into trouble. Though survivors can negotiate vertical movement pretty well, such as a climb followed by a jump, anything that involves changing vertical direction, like surmounting a block by climbing up and then down, is likely to stymie them. You can micromanage their movements pretty easily, but it can definitely wear on your nerves, especially when you're attempting a given puzzle for the sixth time.
Despite its minor control issues, Exit 2 is quite engaging. Each new scenario brings new elements and new hazards to challenge your ingenuity in new ways. These include basic hazards such as fire and electrified floors as well as more-complex ones such as platforms on pulleys and bridges that can be traversed only a certain number of times. Later levels introduce even stranger elements, including a bizarre survivor/item hybrid. Marshalling the level layout, the item possibilities, and the movement paths of your survivors is a formidable mental exercise, and the rush of satisfaction that you feel after figuring it all out is very rewarding. This thrill is increased by the fact that Exit 2 is not easy, and even with the thorough tutorial and comfortable difficulty curve, you can expect to hit seemingly unsolvable stumpers. Though every level has a timer, you usually won't run low on time once you've got a good plan of action, so the timer is more for speed runners looking to earn a place on the online leaderboards.
Given how much time you spend staring at the levels trying to figure out how to beat them, it's fortunate that Exit 2's art style is so pleasing to the eye. There are 22 different scenarios (each with 10 levels) that each sport their own unique look. From the ornate interiors and lush foliage of the jungle temple to the cluttered elegance of the cruise ship in trouble, the backgrounds are colorful and vibrant. They feature thoughtful design touches that include jet contrails and playful tentacles, and the bold, dark lines of the characters and objects stand out nicely. The looping music provides a suitable (albeit slightly repetitive) soundtrack, but just like in Exit, the characters constantly whine and yell about their predicament. It's baffling that this wasn't changed, and you'll want to mute the sound effects before they drive you into a rage. If you're worried about losing track of your vociferous wards, the Back button provides a handy quick map to help you make sure that all your ducks are in a row.
Though it doesn't improve on the original in any meaningful way, Exit 2 is still a very good puzzle game. The 22 new scenarios and three stages from Exit comprise a whopping 250 levels of puzzle-platforming for a mere 800 points ($10). Fun and frustration abound, though fortunately the latter generally comes from a given level's fiendish difficulty rather than the slightly clumsy controls and insufferable sound effects. The survivors' abilities and environmental hazards are woven together in so many clever and diverse ways that there's always a nagging compulsion to try it one more time, or to give the next level a quick try. The unique visual presentation pulls it all together nicely, making it a pleasure to don Mr. ESC's yellow fedora once again.