There's something slightly fraudulent about Escape Plan. At first glance, the bloated sad-sack characters, the empty-eyed china masks, the distended bellies and the barbs and spikes scattered about might lead you to believe that this creepy monochrome adventure is the genuine product of a tortured creative psyche.
Look again, though, and it's all a little too precise: the environments are too tidily organised, the horrors too artfully suggestive. It's weird, alright, but it's Corporate Weird; it's that slightly hollow, made-to-measure surrealism you see in self-consciously edgy commercials. It's Ren and Stimpy reworked by the people who make those Judderman ads.
And underneath all that, of course, Escape Plan isn't weird at all. It's a simple piece of no-fuss entertainment designed to showcase the many inputs of Sony's lovely new handheld. This is a 2D platformer that's filled with industrial gimmickry: an assault course in which you power two hapless heroes - Laarg, the fat one who can bust through floors, Lil, the thin one that can inflate - by flinging and tapping, by pinching, tilting, and rocking. At times, it feels like a console manual with fail states.
That's not to say it isn't inventive stuff. Escape Plan's actually quite a smart game, offering dozens and dozens of snack-size challenges, each one throwing in a new idea or two. The objective of each level is the same, however: get Lil or Laarg - or often both of them - to the exit, swiping them to set them in motion, prodding them to stop them in their tracks, and then manipulating the environment when it threatens to do them in along the way.
There are some lovely activities on offer, too, as you plug gaps in leaky pipes, spin the time-scarred blades of an old wind turbine, or even tickle wayward sheep to move them into position so they can provide a soft landing for Laarg. (That last bit can actually be insanely frustrating if the sheep are feeling very wayward.) Both touchscreens get in on the action, with the rear reserved for either pushing blocks out of the screen or manipulating enemies, but that's only the start of the Vita's work-out. Later on, you'll be tilting the handheld to move inflated characters or stiff little bubbles past walls of spikes, you'll be stroking it to shift electrical pylons around, and pinching the front and back to get coffee-powered Lil to let out a sudden burst of speed.
The general idea is that Escape Plan should be easy to get through but hard to excel at, so a three-star rating system is in place to grade your effort on each level by counting the number of gestures you took to complete it. It's a find-the-racing-line mentality that ought to work rather well with the increasingly elaborate - and sometimes genuinely devious - assault courses that the game lays on for you - but a slight lag to the controls holds it back, encouraging you to repeat inputs and therefore mess up your run at the leaderboard table. That, along with a very uneven difficulty curve, makes the whole thing a little more annoying than it could be, and will sometimes lead weaker minds to lean on the level skip option.
It's rough around the edges, then, and it rings a little false, but Escape Plan is still a decent means of getting to know your Vita a bit better. Like the hardware it lives on, this is the PlayStation brand getting to grips with the era of iOS and Android - and the results, while rather conflicted in this case, are interesting.
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