Escape Plan Review

Escape Plan brings action and puzzles to the Vita with style, but awkward controls crash the party.

by

Lil and Laarg are two buddies who look like bulging black garbage bags with wiry legs and arms and white masks for faces. Somehow the two chums were captured by the evil Bakuki, a mad scientist who locked them up in his secret space base. Their future looks grim indeed, until one day Lil wakes up from a nap and escapes from his holding cell. He frees his pal, and the resourceful duo work on a plan to escape the clutches of their captor. Reminiscent of PlayStation-era games by Oddworld Inhabitants, Escape Plan stars weak heroes lost in a hostile environment where their wits are every bit as important as their agility. Their adventure is a difficult and often frustrating one, but it's ultimately engaging enough to make enduring that frustration worthwhile.

This could be a lethal place for a surprise fart.

Lil and Laarg are controlled using the Vita's two touch surfaces, though you rarely move them both at once. When a stage requires you to guide the pair to one or more exit gates, you can tap icons in the corner of the screen to switch whom you control. In most cases, though, you find only one of the characters in a given stage because they get split up frequently. Even when they're in the same room, they rarely work as a team. In a handful of areas you need to guide one fellow to stand on a switch to open the way for the other guy to eliminate a hazard, but such cases are the exception, not the rule.

Regardless of the character you're actively controlling, most actions are managed using the front touch screen, and the camera is manipulated with the right analog stick if necessary. You can swipe at a character to make him start moving forward in the specified direction until either you tap him to halt his movement or he brushes against a non-fatal obstacle. The rear touch pad is used to interact with the environment. It's possible to push out beams that can serve as ledges, for instance. That's not to say that the front touch screen doesn't manipulate your surroundings, however; often, you need to use it to make oversized fan blades whirl or to knock objects out of the way. Sometimes, you might be trying to tweak the environment and accidentally set your character on an unwelcome march.

Get those fan blades spinning to elevate your enemies toward a grisly death.

The control scheme works reasonably well in low-stress situations where precision and timing aren't necessary. However, the game frequently presents you with more dangerous situations where you figure out what you need to do to succeed but you still can't triumph because the control scheme isn't up to the task. Of particular note are those moments when Lil sucks up gas and floats like a balloon. You're supposed to swipe the screen to change the direction he faces, and you need to tilt the Vita to control his angle. Often, you have to do that while also being prepared to squeeze the front and back touch panels at the same time so that Lil can fart to lose altitude and avoid a hazard.

Another early example of controls and level design conspiring to cause frustration is the Smoking Kills stage, near the end of the game's third section. You control the aptly named Laarg, who stands on one side of a wide room that features whirling fan blades where most of the floor should be. Laarg can't safely step on the fans; they'll tear him to shreds. Instead, you must tap the back side of the screen to briefly extend one of five consecutive ledges that are positioned within the wall above the blades. Each ledge remains extended for only a brief period of time once activated, and Laarg moves ponderously. Careful taps are essential once you swipe Laarg to start his crawl forward. As if that weren't enough, there's also an overhead duct from which smoke is seeping. The smoke is fatal if inhaled, so while you blindly tap the back screen and hope that your fingers find the points that trigger the right ledges, you also need to tap the front of the Vita ahead of Laarg's arrival to briefly block the inky fumes.

Despite all my rage, I am still stuck right here in a cage.

The problem with such stages isn't that they're unbeatable (you'll most likely rise to the challenge if you try a few times). Rather, the issue comes from the lack of satisfaction that the effort provides. When you finally clear a challenge that had you stumped for a moment, it feels like victory over a control scheme, not ingenuity. Then you're rated based on the number of times your finger brushed one of the touch panels. You are awarded up to three stars for your performance, but you can lose the third star quite easily. An errant touch of the back panel or a tap that registers but doesn't cause your character to move becomes frustrating, even when it's not fatal to Lil or Laarg. You spend a lot of time making moves and hoping that a control quirk doesn't ruin your day.

If you find that a stage is causing you too much frustration, you can opt to skip it. Even if you skip the final encounter, you can still see how the tale concludes. There's no apparent shame in taking the easy way out, either; when you fail at a stage a few times, a prompt appears onscreen to remind you that it's possible to skip to the next stage from the pause screen. That's a nice feature that you'll likely welcome if a particular stage is giving you too much grief, though it would have been better if the level design didn't sometimes make this seem like an attractive option.

While Escape Plan suffers from an awkward control interface, it still has a lot to offer. The puzzles are often quite clever, even when they're difficult, and the charming black-and-white visuals give the proceedings a fairy-tale charm that's hard to resist. Music is also a big part of the experience, whether in the form of some funny parody titles for stages, such as Lovin' an Elevator and It's Raining Sheep, or as background tunes that alternately take their cues from jazzy and classical compositions. Somehow, the combination of music and visual style make it funnier when you encounter a stage with a fancy name like La Vie En Rose and your goal is to float along a spike-lined shaft while farting. There's no in-your-face humor, sheep and flatulence aside, but levity is there if you look for it.

That little black pile of ash on the floor could be you, if you’re not careful!

The core ideas driving Escape Plan are solid, and they can make for an enjoyable time, particularly if you tackle only a few stages at a time and then take a break. The interesting level design and artistic production values grapple with an awkward control scheme that often interferes with the fun. The resulting game is still worthwhile, but it falls short of what it so easily might have been.

The Good
Inventive puzzles
Charming production visuals
Catchy tunes
The Bad
Awkward, frustrating controls
6
Fair
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22 comments
coruscant
coruscant

They've actually patched this several times since this review and several were related to the controls, so maybe time for a review update GameSpot?

white_wind
white_wind

just bought this, nice little game,

tr1n1tr1n1
tr1n1tr1n1

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

ClayMeow
ClayMeow

The only negatives mentioned in the article are control nuances, yet GS knocks four points off for that? Seems a bit harsh, though as others have stated, that seems to be the trend for GS-reviewed Vita games. I played Escape Plan on a demo unit and found it quite entertaining. The controls take some getting used to, but they're not as bad as GS makes them out to be. When I buy the Vita, I will definitely be picking this game up.

Noformation
Noformation

Although the game is far from original (think Limbo meets machinarium), I give the game a 7.5 for the nice art direction and as said below, a perfect run through each stage is what gives this game a good addiction factor.

Fayt1986
Fayt1986

wow i hope the score is wrong..... i really wanted this for when i caved and got a psvita.

EllaminWolfus
EllaminWolfus

I agree with some parts but i would give at least a 8, yes the back touch annoyed but that is it

anticusho1984
anticusho1984

the concept it's really good and at the same time new hardware meas a lot of experimental games, it's still a good experience not as great as when I played exit on psp a few years ago but worth playing

Lord_Spanky
Lord_Spanky

Lol gs's low vita scores are becoming a running joke for those that know better. The controls perform as intended. The only frustration lies with occasionally making a gesture to early, when the game isnt accepting input, which can throw off your timing. Whether you like the controls is simply a matter of preference. I love them. The game looks and performs great. My only complaint is that the edges could be crisper, at least on the character models. The vita could definately handle some aa in this game, assuming there is no more room for increasing the res. The game is a bit on the short side, but achieving full trophies does offer some replay fun. Trophies aside, shooting for a perfect run is very addictive, albeit frustrating. As i said in the little deviants review thread, this game is an 8. I still stand by that, having spent even more time with the game.

shamanix13
shamanix13

I love this game, I have some problems with the controls too... but honestly I don't think that this game deserves a 6.0...

endorbr
endorbr

@MafiaMusic - Why are you trolling reviews for Vita games then?

theJBlounge
theJBlounge

@EKGProd Yeah reading the review, I was thinking, how much of it is forced touch screen support. Bit unfortunate how much more complicated it makes things. I really like the art design and personality of the game.

Kos1c
Kos1c

@MafiaMusic That's a little pre-mature don't you think? It hasn't been out long enough in EU, USA and other regions around the world (Only Asia). I can only see your post as a fanboy towards other consoles, since you brought up the PS3 (which has been a decent console to some extent). Now back to the game, I've played a good hour or so of Escape Plan. I was really excited to play it before owning the Ps Vita, since it reminded me of the indie game Limbo. But after doing a good handful of levels, Escape Plan started to loose it's unique feel. I ended up having to use more touches per level and ruin a good 3 star reward. Sometimes you end up hitting the back touch screen on the device more often which was annoying. Also, blindly touching a screen isn't the smartest thing to be honest (Still really unsure why it's there, it feels less of a gain and more of a hassle). Escape Plan is still worth a try for any Vita user, but it isn't the game to brag about how well the console can do (So far things like Uncharted, shows of the power of the device from what I've experienced from it).

MafiaMusic
MafiaMusic

PSVita = Biggest disaster in gaming history, next to the PS3

burgeg
burgeg

I keep hearing these control complaints, but I honestly don't have much of a problem with them. I've been having great fun with it so far. With the exception of the farting when you're floating in the air, I've found the controls responsive enough. I have trouble determining what direction you'll go in when you sqeeze to fart, and have had some annoying deaths because of that. But that aside I've found the controls fine. I don't even have a problem with the levels where you have you use multiple fingers to cover up holes and stuff. Definitely worth the £5 I paid for it. I got £5 off for pre-ordering the Vita though, and I doubt it's worth the regular £10 asking price.

rynmls
rynmls

too bad. this could be like a patapon on psp...

EKGProd
EKGProd

Yeah this review is spot on. The game itself is a lot of fun in small doses. Pick it up and beat 4 or 5 levels and then put it down. Don't try and play more than that, since the awkward controls will just test your patience. Many, I don't know how they designed this game and didn't stop to think about how people would control the darn thing!? Honestly, the way they have you trying to do 4 things at once AND hold on to the Vita is so frustrating most of the time. There was no need for many of the control frustrations. Actually, there was no need for the entire thing to be designed on the touch screen. It screams of Sony pushing their will on them. If they can patch the game to allow for better control, I would be all over this game. As it is, it is a fun diversion for a few minutes a day. Anything more and you're just asking for trouble.

theshonen8899
theshonen8899

I really love almost everything about this game except for the controls. It was an interesting control scheme at first, but then it became difficult to hold the console. It's almost as if the game developers had three hands or something. Damn shame.

Escape Plan More Info

First Release on Feb 14, 2012
  • PlayStation Vita
  • PlayStation 4
Escape Plan has players guide Lil and Laarg to safety using unique touch controls to survive a perilous labyrinth of puzzles and booby traps.
7.4
Average User RatingOut of 86 User Ratings
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Developed by:
Fun Bits
Published by:
SCEA, SCEI, SCEE, SCE Australia
Genres:
Puzzle
Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen
All Platforms
Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes