The Escapee is a game that’s really hard to love. You want to, but it just won’t let you. It’s a game that conveys a really great sense of atmosphere at some moments, and then a minute later will have you tossing your iDevice in frustration as the cripplingly awful controls rear their head. It’s not that The Escapee is a bad game, per se, but the problems that it has are so severe and divisive that we strongly advise caution before picking up this title.
The game takes place shortly after humans make first contact with aliens. At first this is very exciting for humanity, but soon people start disappearing, all of them young, strong men. Your hero is one of those young men, though he manages to escape after his capture, which leads him on a strange journey as he tries to get home.
The trip is dangerous, and all throughout you’ll have to figure out ways to survive in the alien environment and get past the nasty perils in your path. It all sounds like it amounts to a great iPhone experience, but this is where the problems rear their head.
I’m sure they did something to deserve it.
The puzzles that you’ll confront are completely trial and error if you don’t want to use the help guide, which will either tell you exactly what to do or be so nebulous as to be utterly worthless. The best example comes early as the hint system tells you to be careful of the giant scary beast with sharp teeth that’s hanging from the ceiling (gee, thanks!). Then it tells you to feed it some bats and run by while it’s chewing. Why didn’t we think of that already? Let’s just pull out some of the extra bats we have in our back pocket.
Having found no bats in the entire cave, we got extremely bored after a long search. By complete accident (while suicidally feeding ourselves to the scary beast repeatedly) we accidentally took our thumb off the controls, and the character stopped just inches in front of the beast. For a reason that is still unclear, some bats flew out of a corpse beneath us. Survival 101: when searching for bats, always be sure to search the innards of the nearest decaying corpse. Unfortunately, those weren’t the bats he wanted, though. You have to stand at the right spot on the corpse for the correct type of bat to fly out. These types of puzzles are far too common in The Escapee, and solving them to progress is often complete guesswork.
Choose your D-pad.
The controls didn’t help this situation at all. There are 8 buttons lined up side-by-side on the bottom of the screen which aid movement. When you’re not accidentally pushing the wrong buttons (which will happen often), the game will occasionally just ignore your button presses.
Having bad controls isn’t a complete deal-breaker, though. The real problem is that The Escapee doesn’t design around the need for good controls. Instead it makes you perform perfectly timed jumps and quick escapes. Just because the game controls somewhat like the old school Prince of Persia games doesn’t mean that type of gameplay should be involved. The game’s manual save structure doesn’t help either. If you forget to save for a while and die, you lose every bit of your progress.
At its best moments The Escapee is an interesting game that can really make you feel alone and isolated in an alien environment, and we were genuinely intrigued by its premise. But in its worst moments it’s borderline unplayable. Some people might really enjoy this game, but it’s likely that the majority of gamers will get so frustrated in the first 15 minutes that they wont bother playing it again.