Heading into PAX East 2017, there were quite a few games we headed to the convention for – and we got to play most of them. What we were not expecting was to be completely blindsided by a game we knew nothing about previously. And not just blind-sided, but blown away to such an extent that never before has a game made a better first impression on us ever. That game was The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti and it was one of several playable gems at the Annapurna Interactive booth.
If, like us, you didn't know about this game before now, The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti is a side scrolling sort-of platform that incorporates a lot of other elements into it. One of the most noteworthy was the rhythm-based gameplay which will make-up a major part of the game. As relayed to us by one of the devs, the game is about a musician who comes from a family of Bob Dylan-esque folksy musicians, so it's expected that the player will follow in the family's footsteps and make folk music. But it's not to be. It turns out you're far more interested in cosmic coincidences and space rock odysseys. It was said to be essentially a game about David Bowie going on a quest to become Ziggy Stardust. And just...wow.
The first impression that the game made was absolutely remarkable. We were playing a small little vertical slice of the game that was built to show off at conventions, and it was absolutely stunning. Bright, neon colours littered the landscape of the woodsy, snow-capped area we found ourselves in. Portions of the game even looked like environments from Journey – except on acid. The environments were vibrant, beautiful, and teeming with all sorts of weird fluorescent life that wouldn't be out of place in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Which leads us to the rhythm gameplay that we spent some time with. There's this one hulking, alien-bison-thing that you encounter along your journey, and you have a rock-off with them. To do this, you activate your guitar which soars down from the sky like a divine being, and the gameplay then becomes a glam-rock version of Simon Says. While the actually matching of the notes wasn't particularly challenging, all of the fun stemmed from the melodicism of the game. We were told that the goal wasn't necessarily to emulate the rhythm games that have come before, but rather to do something new with it.
This first battle was ripped straight out of Close Encounters, with the 'Wild Signals' bit from the end of the film, and the satisfaction came not from aping a challenging segment of a song but rather getting pleasure from hearing the melodies themselves intertwine. It might not sound terribly exciting on paper but seeing it in person and actually doing it made it one of the most satisfying things we've encountered in a while.
We also learned that not every level of the game is going to be thematically similar as different areas and levels will explore different types of music with radically different sounds from one another, offering a large variety of sounds and landscapes for the game. Additionally the game is about a musician "discovering themselves" and how they want to shape their own persona and this brings with it branching dialogue. It doesn't impact the overarching narrative, but it allows for the player to more easily have their own personal journey. Most of the options for the dialogue functioned almost like flavor-text. They don't affect the narrative, but they help to inform you about what kind of person your character is, and in turn allow you to shape them to become the musician you want them to be.
All in all, absolutely every element of the Francis Vendetti demo came together to create the perfect experience for us. With so many games and experiences vying for attention at a convention as PAX East, we were not expecting a game with one station on the corner of much bigger booth to be our game of the show. But that's what it is. Francis Vendetti is unquestionably the game of the show for PAX East 2017.
The bad news is that the game is still very early in development, so we won't be getting our hands on a full release anytime soon. But for us to be this in love with a game this early is a very promising sign, and if anyone does get the chance to play it at any other upcoming conventions, we can't recommend it enough.
Do you reckon The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti could be a diamond (dog) in the rough? Buy into our enthusiasm in the comments section below.