The job simulation gag has felt a little too played out as of late when it comes to virtual reality. Job Simulator nailed the humorous vibe when PlayStation VR first launched back in 2016, but since then, a number of copycats have tried to emulate the experience to little avail. Salary Man Escape is another title that hopes to garner some success by poking fun at the world of work, but is this one in line for a promotion or a sacking?
The premise of the game is simple: aid the Salary Man in getting to the door located in every level. What tries to put a stop to that however is a puzzle platformer that takes the shape of tactical Jenga, whereby you must move and remove certain blocks in other to create a path to the exit. The interactable blocks are painted red, but every piece of the puzzle is susceptible to physics. Meaning that if you were to remove one specific piece, it could potentially have a knock-on effect where the entire tower topples over and you must restart the level.
Broken up into six distinct chapters, things start off easy as each set of stages introduces the mechanic that defines it, but things quickly ramp up in difficulty from there. Among others, one area will have you balancing weights, another introduces conveyer belts into the mix, while an additional section adds glass to the formula which will shatter if it finds itself carrying too much weight. This all culminates in the final chapter which throws every mechanic into one and adds guards that spell game over if they see you.
All in all, the puzzling side of Salary Man Escape is a genuinely decent one. The brain teasers offer more and more of a challenge as you progress, and with nearly 80 levels present, there’s a good amount of content to sink your teeth into. Combine this with the variety in its mechanics and you’ve got a good selection of levels that are sure to keep you on your toes.
The biggest problem in terms of the puzzles though stems from their commitment to physics. Many of the solutions rely on a certain block falling in a specific way, and if they become snagged on another piece or fall in a funny way, then it can make completion an impossibility. This means that you may have to restart the puzzle in its entirety and hope for a better decline the next time around. It feels unfair, and when it happens on multiple occasions, frustration quickly sets in.
The game can be played with either a DualShock 4 or a single PlayStation Move controller, but unfortunately there’s no definitive control method that we can recommend over the other. The Move controller suffers from tracking issues, particularly when it comes to moving blocks about, while the Dualshock 4’s controls feel very unintuitive. Rather than controlling your own view point, you move the stage about using the directional buttons, deciding whether to zoom in for a closer look or to turn the level in order to see what’s on the other side. These directional controls are inverted with no way of switching, and thus the experience feels very unnatural when it comes to any sort of navigation.
Graphically, the title clearly has a certain look it’s going for with an artsyle that prioritizes red tones and white backdrops, but it all just ends up looking rather dull. It helps to easily identify which blocks you can interact with, of course, but the bland greys carry over into the likes of the level select screen and the environment around the puzzles themselves, which emulate an office setting. The overall look did little to impress us, a banal backdrop that fails to distract from the potential of annoyance found in gameplay.
Audibly, however, the game is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Featuring songs from the 1980s Japanese pop scene, the soundtrack is at complete odds with the rest of the game, but it sort of works. The upbeat tunes contrast with the uninspiring scenery and at least give you something to be positive about if you’ve had to restart a stage one too many times. It’s a bizarre clash, but it's enjoyable for what it was.
Salary Man Escape is a competent puzzler that has a decent amount of fun to offer when things are going your way, but when that enjoyment partly relies on physics outside of your control, it’s easy for frustration to creep in when the going gets tough. Add that to the fact that the game lacks a definitive control method thanks to flaws in both motion and the traditional controller, and you can’t be blamed for looking for an alternative experience.