PS Vita Review – Escape Plan

Escape Plan is yet another first-party PSN-only launch title for the PlayStation Vita, but it’s easily the most unusual title in the entire launch line-up. Not only is it a new IP, but it’s a new experience – period. Knowing that’s not necessarily always a good thing, I approached Escape Plan with caution. And that was a smart move.

A smart move because if you’re not paying attention, there’s a million and one ways to die in Escape Plan. There’s even a trophy that reward you for killing main characters Lil and Laarg in a variety of ways. The game is appropriately pegged as “survival humor”, because even though your goal is to survive, dying is nearly as satisfying, and always worth a chuckle.

In fact, you will die…a lot. It’s almost vital to completion as each area’s goals aren’t always clear, and must be discovered by some old-fashioned trial and error. Rubbing death after death in your face, Lil and Laarg keep track of your errors by displaying a number across their chest. As each character dies, the number rises – and although it’s never explicitly said, going with the theme of the game, I assume it’s because Lil or Laarg have just been recycled into a new Lil and Laarg. By the end of my first playthrough, Lil had the number 97 on his chest, and Laarg, 85 – and I didn’t think I did too bad at all.

You see, the game is centered on recycling. Not the “go green” type of recycling, but Lil and Laarg are imprisoned by Escape Plan’s villain, Bakuki. Bakuki plans to recycle Lil and Laarg into more of his minions. And rather than a jail, they’re imprisoned in a sadistic recycling plant that Bakuki has created. Speaking of Bakuki – I’m sorry, but every time I see his name I think it says one of the filthier forms of pornography originating from Japan. Maybe I’m a pervert, or maybe they should have found another name for him. Probably both.

The game is entirely in black, white and all grays in between. The Vita’s OLED display has been lauded for its vibrant colors, but it also produces deep, rich blacks and bright whites – something that Escape Plan demonstrates extremely well. It, and the lack of spoken word and lack of a clear story give Escape Plan an artistic flair that many may not appreciate. I instantly found similarities in other games – echochrome and Limbo – in Escape Plan’s appearance, level design and gameplay. And it’s never a bad thing to be held in the same light as two downloadable gems such as those two.

The music, and the way the puzzles are played are very similar to echochrome. They’re not these twisted landscapes, and are rather semi-linear individual areas, but they both feature the same approach: Send your character walking, and then alter the level itself to provide safe passage for Lil or Laarg. The music is very similar to echochrome in that it’s relaxing and generally classy. And it feels like Limbo in the sense that there is never really any set story – it’s all how you interpret it – as well as the way the puzzles are designed and the horrifying ways to die (like falling into razor blades, smushed into spikes, or electrocuted).

All of the gameplay is done via the Vita’s front touchscreen and rear touch-panel, and it’s the very best use of these features in the entire launch line-up. Using gestures and taps, you send Lil and/or Laarg through the stage, swiping and tapping both sides of the Vita to clear away obstacles and guide them to safety. This ranges from spinning fans, to creating steps, even drinking coffee so poor Lil is wired enough to dash across dangerous, unstable areas. Again, humor plays a big role throughout the gameplay, as does trial and error. Most new obstacles are never explained, so it will take a few attempts before you realize what you must do in order to make it to the next area. The fewer gestures you use, the better your score will be. It all works really well, and shows off the Vita’s touch abilities to their fullest, but the touch controls can be problematic. At times I was swiping the screen or tapping, only to have Lil or Laarg do the complete opposite of what I wanted, killing them instantly. Frustrating when it happens, but it wasn’t common enough to hinder my enjoyment of the game.

Each “level” is broken up into many 30-second to two-minute areas, each having a variety of focused challenges. The game starts off slow and easy, introducing you to the unique gameplay and world. At first, you will only play as Lil, then only Laarg, but eventually the two will team up to solve these puzzles together. I wouldn’t say the game is difficult, but it is challenging, and will require multiple attempts for the more complex puzzles.

The game is really excellent all the way through. But, unfortunately, it’s on the short side, clocking in at about three hours long on the first playthrough, meaning you can easily pull it off in about two hours on a second playthrough. It’s so good, though; you’ll start playing again the second you finish the first time. You’ll just want more. There isn’t much reason to replay the game yet, either. I say yet, because there are “weekly challenges” to be had, but at the moment there is only one: Finish the game dying 20 times or less combined between the two characters. Considering I died a total of 182 times combined during my first playthrough, that’s a challenge I’m not yet ready to face. There are also collectible signs littered throughout Escape Plan’s levels – 30 in total. This only mildly increases reply value, because they don’t seem to do anything when you find one – at least nothing until you reach all 30, I don’t know for sure.

But because those three hours are so damn good, unique, and enjoyable, it leaves you wanting more and more. On the game’s menu, there are other monitor screens showing only static – I pray these are for DLC. If not, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed for a sequel…fast! I ended up liking Escape Plan more than most of the retail titles available at the PlayStation Vita’s launch, and if you’re looking to load up on games while stretching your buck, you can’t go wrong with Escape Plan. I only wish it were a little longer for the price.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Funny and artistic. Classy, yet sadistic.

+ There is no better example of the Vita’s touch features.

– Too short for the price.

8 out of 10