Escape Plan Preview – Swiping Our Way to Freedom
Written Friday, December 30, 2011 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
When Escape Plan was announced at Gamescom earlier this year, it almost stole the show. Squeezed into a Sony press conference that provided little to quicken the pulse, here was a title that immediately grabbed the eye thanks to memorable characters and a distinctive art style. Escape Plan felt genuinely exciting.
Some months on and as the game nears release, Escape Plan continues to show promise. The debut title from developer Fun Bits, whose Chris Millar previously worked on Fat Princess, this pretty little Oddworld-esque puzzler remains one of the highlights of the Vita's launch line-up.
Escape Plan follows the escapades of Lil and Laarg, two inky prisoners in a nightmarish factory run by a chap called Bakuki. He's not the best of bosses. He wants to recycle Lil and Laarg into more of his slavish minions. Using a plethora of pinchy, touchy gestural inputs on the Vita's touchpad and screen, you must guide Lil and Laarg to freedom, navigating them through the factory's labyrinth of environmental deathtraps.
They're not the brightest of chaps, our daring duo. With their circular white faces, rotund bellies and spindly little limbs; once they start walking, they dumbly continue forward like Lemmings, until they either stumble to safety or come to a sticky end. Those white numbers on their bodies? That's how many times they've died.
And oh, how fun those deaths can be. Rather than a punishment or a setback, death in Escape Plan is invariably amusing. Just as the game borrows the black and white aesthetic of Limbo, it also borrows the juxtaposed ultra-violence. For as well as being dumb, Lil and Laarge are also rather delicate. Should one of them merely trip over a brick, they'll splat head first into the ground, splashing the screen with inky viscera. So with this in mind, imagine how messy it gets when one of them sees the wrong side of a giant, swinging hammer.
To avoid this messy fate, and those belly numbers ticking up, it is down to you to interact with the environment - pushing, prodding and dragging everything out of the way. Fail and both Lil and Laarg will end up sticky little puddles of death.
It starts off simple enough. You begin by waking Lil from his slumber with a tap on the screen, then swiping to the right to usher him out of the door. Once there you'll get Lil to suck air from an air tank, inflating him to such a degree that he floats off up towards the ceiling. Tilting the Vita to steer Lil in the correct direction, you guide him through a hole and then pinch; deflating him and propelling him across the screen like a popped balloon.
Rather than shoehorning in uses for the Vita's various capabilities, Escape Plan feels like perhaps the most convincing playground for the handheld's numerous inputs. The series of taps and swipes and pinches you'll be using are intuitive enough, with the analogue sticks reduced largely to moving the camera around those self-contained, striking monochrome environments.
After a short period, you'll meet up with Laarg, thus uniting the tubby twosome. Each has their own strengths. Lil is quicker and capable of caffeine-powered dashes. Laarg, meanwhile, is a big lump. Pinch him to speed up or swipe him across the screen repeatedly and he'll stumble to the ground. He can, however, execute a rather powerful bum-splash, capable of bashing through the floor to lower levels. Between them, these loveable blobs possess every skill you need to guide them to safety.
Before long you'll find yourself grappling with some really tough little puzzles, alternating between each character to progress and mastering some fiendish timing-based solutions. Complicating everything is the presence of the factory's minions, nasty little buggers with blowgun darts who you will have to avoid, kill or trick in order to scuttle by. It's not easy.
There's plenty of variety on offer in Escape Plan, spread throughout an experience that offers up around 85 levels. All things considered, it may well constitue the perfect launch title. Not only does it embrace the Vita's unique features, but it also offers up devilish puzzles, bitesize levels and more character than you'll find in an entire shelfful of military FPSes. If Fun Bits can follow up on this promise, it may just have a great little franchise on its hands. We might too.
Lil and Laarg as Vita mascots? Oh go on then.