2021 in review: Spacing out with The Artful Escape

Not so mellow.

Hello! Over the next few days we're going to be going back over some of our favourite games and moments and themes and whatnot from this very strange year. We hope you enjoy looking back with us!

There's something magical about stories that take place in the span of a day or two. It's most often done in films, and they're usually road trips or coming-of-age stories. One of my favourites is 2002's Orange County, absent of all cynicism, where Colin Hanks' character has to decide what type of writer he wants to become while choosing which uni to go to.

The Artful Escape follows another young man, folk singer Francis Vendetti, in a sleepy Colorado town, where he's set to cover the songs of his legendary, Dylan-like uncle at a special event. However, it's not just the residents' expectations that are getting to him, but his inner musical persona that's nagging in conflict with his external personality.

Eventually, you'll find yourself in alternate, vivid dimensions cranking out huge guitar riffs in musical battles with wild-looking aliens. But the genius of the game's story is how it actually moves at lightning speed despite its mellow opening presentation. This unfolds through Francis' multiple epiphanies while you're out meeting familiar faces and wondering - daring, even - whether you should ditch the folksy persona and "come out" as the riff-monster you secretly are.

The Artful Escape trailer

These epiphanies are perfectly animated, by the way, like the rest of the game and the beautiful storybook-like design. You're engaged in conversation when suddenly, bright colours of wild realms encapsulate you. And then you jump back into an awkward pause trying to remember what you were even talking about. It's a simple trick and a rare display of something many of us have experienced.

Francis accidentally shares his inner persona during the game's opening moments with the evasive yet interesting Violetta, where you (can - dialogue options galore!) say you're visiting planets with no names. And although there isn't quite the same mystery to it all, like a Child of Eden, the game has a confidence in its ability to charm that's unequivocal yet entirely welcome.

But it's not the musical face-offs or the delightful, floating platforming that has me thinking about this game since its release. It's those first few epiphanies. The reason why so many coming-of-age movies work is because we've all been through those periods in our lives. And I say periods when I really mean moments, specific moments where we actively decide what to do with our lives and how much something means to us.

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Cor!

The importance of these decisions is heightened even further by a fast-ticking clock. And the Artful Escape trades away any toxic notion of having to "man-up" by continuing to do what's expected of you, for special side characters telling you to simply be yourself. Francis describes his home as both a shrine and a tomb, the expectation of others being enough to bring about his demise. But with his guitar, he's free from all physical confines around him. This is a game that lets you be that great person you want yourself to be in your youth, when nobody's around and there's no judgment to face. Sometimes you just need to hear it from your life's supporting characters.

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About the author

Emad Ahmed

Emad Ahmed

Contributor

Emad Ahmed is a freelance writer covering games (among other things) and what they say about our world. His desk usually has one stack of unplayed games and another of unread books.

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