Lil and Laarg are in trouble. They’ve been imprisoned by the dastardly Bakuki who’s intent on recycling them as part of some evil plan. If they’re going to avoid being turned into black sludge then they’ll need help escaping from a prison packed to the brim with deadly traps all baying for their blood.
Escape Plan originally released on the PlayStation Vita in early 2012, where it proved to be one of the best showcases for the system’s roster of touch controls – a trait which turned out to be both a strength and a weakness. Now with the arrival of the PlayStation 4, it’s available for the first time on a non-handheld device, giving those of you who’ve skipped on the portable platform a chance to take this enjoyable, quirky puzzler out on parole.
Throughout its ninety plus puzzle rooms, you’ll guide the aforementioned Lil and Laarg individually – or as a duo – through all of the obstacles placed in their way as they make their escape. These can range from something as simple as a brick, right up to what can only be described as spinning blades of death. While the odds are firmly stacked against them, the twosome have a few tricks that help them to overcome the impediments in their path.
Lil, for example, can drink coffee that gets him so wired that he can dash forward, and he can also employ gas vents to inflate himself so that he can float to normally inaccessible areas. Laarg on the other hand can use his bulk to bash his way through obstacles. It’s a little disappointing that Laarg’s quite basic skill is only used in limited situations, as Lil’s talents evolve over the course of the campaign, revealing plenty of hidden depth.
Our first run through the adventure took around four hours, though your mileage may vary depending on how quickly you solve each puzzle, as once you’ve worked out the solution, some rooms take mere seconds to complete. After each stage, you’re given a rating between one and three stars depending on how quickly you managed to reach the finish line, so you’ll really need to get the duo moving if you want to consistently achieve the top score. There’s also a number of safety signs to hunt down within the environments that act as in-game collectibles. These elements encourage replayability, but will only drive the most dedicated completionists as there’s no real in-game reward for tracking them down aside from the PlayStation Network Trophies associated with them.
Once you’ve beaten the core set of levels, a complete second set of rooms are made available which act as a prequel to the main story and provide an additional challenge with some fiendish puzzles that had us stumped for much longer than anything in the main game. As if that wasn’t enough, a number of DLC level packs are available to buy that add even more conundrums for you to tickle your grey matter with.
With the original Vita version being built around the touch capabilities of the device (particularly the rear touchpad) we were especially interested to see how these aspects of the game would be translated to a home console. The solution involves the inclusion of an on-screen cursor which you control with the left analogue stick in conjunction with the X and R2 buttons which push obstacles forwards and backwards. At first, we were disappointed by the substitute, but once we got to grips with this we felt that it actually provided more precise control over the action. One of the issues with the handheld iteration was that sometimes the interface wasn’t very accurate, and in the later, more complex levels – where you needed to use precise movements in order to avoid cheap deaths and frustration – that lack of accuracy was a big problem. However, that issue’s not present on the PS4, and the game’s more enjoyable as a result.
The developer’s also managed to take full advantage of the DualShock 4’s unique features to a surprising degree, with the touchpad and SIXAXIS motion controls both being used to solve some puzzles. As the complexity ramps up, using all of the different controls can make you feel like you’re playing the gaming equivalent of Twister, but this challenge is part of what makes the title so enjoyable. The studio’s even managed to shoehorn a use for the controller’s built-in speaker, even if it’s just so that it can emit an amusing “raspberry” noise when Lil deflates after being blown up like a balloon.
Despite all of this, though, the release’s strongest asset is its fantastic art design. Its unusual black-and-white visual style makes us think that someone on the design team spent a lot of time watching Eastern European animation. This style coupled with a classical music score packed full of tunes that you’ll recognise (but probably won’t be able to name) makes for a unique atmosphere. Even though there’s a really dark tone to the game, there’s also an infusion of the cute and quirky to offset the more disturbing elements. This is especially true of the character designs, and it’s hard not to appreciate the effort that’s been invested into toeing such a difficult line.
Escape Plan has broken free of the shackles of the Vita and tunnelled onto the PS4 with a surprising degree of success. The touch controls are mostly gone, but the button prompts that replace them result in a more precise and less frustrating experience. If you haven’t played the title before, then this pleasant port offers the perfect opportunity to experience the wonderfully surreal first-party exclusive on a big screen. And if you’ve already spent time behind bars, then at least through the power of cross-buy your second spell in the slammer will be on the house.