The Problem With Every “Escape Plan” Is in the Execution

OK, my headline’s a bit misleading: yes, the control scheme for the PS4 version of Escape Plan (which was originally created for the Vita and its touchscreen; level names still use terms like “tap” and “squeeze”) is really the only problem with this otherwise enjoyable puzzle escape game. But the literal executions that litter the game–i.e., the many ways in which Lil and Laarg can be murdered–are far from the problem. In fact, they’re the main draw of this darkly comic adventure, which is both gory and Gorey-ish. You can figure out by the stain on the wall or the pun-filled title of the level (“Fly By”) that a giant fly swatter will kill you, or you can simply die, learn a valuable lesson about expendable AI companions, and then try again. As “The Little Things” suggests in both name and action, you never know what will kill you: in this instance, it’s the lone brick lying on the floor, over which you will trip headfirst if you’re not conscientious. My favorite level, “Death Trap,” is unbeatable via conventional means: every exit will kill you (one literally pokes you to death), save for the one you entered through.

That said, it’s a little unfair for the game to kill you simply because you can’t get a hang of the controls. Levels in which you have to swap between Lil and Laarg are tough enough, but once you have to multitask by both maneuvering the giant soap bubble you’re floating in and moving the camera, Escape Plan begins to frustrate rather than delight. The gyroscopic controls when Lil is inflated with helium are particularly atrocious, and the use of the touchscreen to flick switches, spin fans, or move elevators up and down can get somewhat touch-and-go, especially if you’re trying to do other things at the same time. Using a reticle to click objects is troublesome as well, since this requires far more precision than you often have time for, especially once you start playing with electrical Tesla conductors. As with games like Contrast and The BridgeEscape Plan emphasizes style over design–in this case, a chiaroscuro color scheme–and that leads to disastrous results.

On the positive side, no individual level is longer than a minute . . . although I shudder to think of the masochists attempting to get the achievement for beating the entire game whilst dying no more than twenty times. More negatively, the base game feels as if it’s missing a lot of content, and in truth, there are sixty additional DLC rooms, and while that may have flown for the original Vita release, I can’t help but feel the PS4 version should have been more complete (Cross-Buy be damned). Still, the fact that I was willing to wrestle with controls simply to see what sinister surprises lay around the next corner (“Scared Stiff” mocks Portal’s infamous cake ending) speaks to the potential of Escape Plan.

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