It was only when we attended a PlayStation Vita preview event at the tail-end of last year, that we really got a feel for the mechanics behind the Fun Bits Interactive developed launch title.
It seems ironic that a game restricted to black and white should serve as one of the best examples of the PlayStation Vita's visual prowess, but with further consideration it's actually a fitting trait. OLED screens are renowned for their remarkable ability to capture blacks, and so Escape Plan's sharp contrast between shades makes for a stunning showcase of the PS Vita's striking five-inch display. It really is an attention grabbing game, and while there's plenty of inventiveness in the gameplay mechanics, the Don Hertzfeldt inspired art remains the title's biggest draw.
Escape Plan is a puzzle game in which you're tasked with controlling a duo of bumbling mannequins known as Lil and Laarg. Unsurprisingly — given the name of the game — your task is to guide the double-act through a sequence of hazardous rooms, utilising touch to help the characters escape.
Developer Fun Bits Interactive has had the concept behind Escape Plan kicking around for a while, but the studio couldn't get the idea to work with buttons and analogue sticks. Thankfully the PS Vita has more than enough touch and motion inputs to compensate, and subsequently Escape Plan plays unlike anything else.
During our short hands-on we got to navigate a selection of isolated rooms from the opening portion of the game. Escape Plan is structured similarly to arthouse favourite Limbo, with the game giving the impression of an emerging landscape, despite the puzzles being restricted to singular environments.
Swiping the screen prompts Lil and Laarg to progress forward, while a swift tap makes them stop. The feel isn't as tactile as we'd have liked, but the decision to utilise touch manifests itself as the puzzles grow in complexity. For example, both characters have a unique ability: Laarg can butt stomp — using up and down swipes on the PlayStation Vita's screen — to open up new routes and breakthrough obstacles. Meanwhile, and arguably more cleverly, Lil can inflate like a balloon, and then be pinched between the device's front and back touch screens for propulsion. It's a mechanic that's only possible on the PlayStation Vita — and the system's arguably at its best when offering those kind of experiences.
Given that we only got to test out the game's opening moments, none of the demonstrated puzzles necessarily blew us away mechanically — but there's definitely potential for some real dexterity driven inventiveness. One stage had us using the front and back touch to create makeshift platforms for our protagonists to navigate, while another had us pushing hospital beds and bricks out of the way in order to provide a safe passage into the next room.
Part of the beauty of the game is its minimalistic approach. Escape Plan rarely communicates with you about what to do, and so it leaves you to experiment with the PS Vita's various interfaces. Thankfully everything feels delightfully natural, although, like so many of the other PlayStation Vita launch titles, we'd prefer a little more on-screen feedback when using the back touchpad.
Escape Plan is an important pillar of the PlayStation Vita's launch line-up because it brings something new to the table — both tonally and mechanically. The game doesn't just feel suited to Sony's new platform, it exists because of it — and that shows a marked difference in philosophy between the platform holder's output on PSP. We can't wait to see more.
Escape Plan is set to release February 22nd on PlayStation Vita.