If you’ve ever wanted to play a game that is essentially a post-rock space opera taking a tour around a neon world of hallucinogenic light shows and surrealist creatures, The Artful Escape is for you.
The game is a kind-of 2D walking simulator, pushing you forward on an adventure as Francis Vendetti – a David Bowie-like figure who is on a psychedelic mission to find himself and secure his future musical direction.
Vendetti feels like his entire life has been overshadowed by his famous folk singer uncle, and as you play through his adventure you’re trying to escape his looming presence and establish yourself as a valid performance artist in your own right.
The game’s narrative seems to play a less important role than its general presentation, though.
It’s a game built around trippy light-infused landscapes and a soaring post-rock soundtrack that sounds like Sigur Ros had a meeting with Boards of Canada (whilst they were watching The Mighty Boosh)
It’s a unique title, and feels like it’s half-game, half-art project as a result.
The 2.5D graphics look amazing in the Unreal Engine, and the whole cosmic setup the game is gunning for comes off really well as sparkly sands reflects obscured moons, fuzzy spider beasts open up their insides and neon stages light up the purple skies.
The game’s use of parallax scrolling and layered visuals really works to create an immersive and interesting world that hums with its own sense of place.
The game is admittedly light on mechanics, however: the only things you can do are move left or right on the 2D plane, jump, and shred your guitar.
It might sound pretty underwhelming, but as you jump and mash X to shred, you’ll notice every note that comes out of your spectral guitar works perfectly in time with the game’s soundtrack, and creates a lovely soundscape too.
The game revolves pretty clearly around music, so seeing (and hearing!) this mechanic in action makes perfect sense.
It gives you a sense of power, makes you feel part of the world.
It helps you understand that what you’re playing is part of Francis Vendetti himself.
There are light dialogue systems in place in the game, too – you’ll encounter NPCs that ask you questions, and depending on what you answer, you can impact the way the game makes sense to yo.
We’re not sure if the creatures and characters you encounter are intentionally sardonic, but we found there’s a wonderful dryness to the game that makes it low-key hilarious in some moments, and quite artistically profound the next.
We’ve no doubt some people won’t have any patience for the game, but if you can stick with its light mechanics and sink into its trippy world, you’re going to have a wonderful time.
It might even be one of those games that really works if you just take a moment every now and then to just listen to it – the soundtrack is incredible, and playing it often feels like playing a music video of your own making… and that’s just fine by us.
As the developer says, The Artful Escape is coming to Xbox One (in glorious 4K) 'when it's damn ready', but from our perspective, that date can't come soon enough!
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