Escape Plan is the ultimate realization of a game design that has been years in the making. The concept has been kicked around, almost exactly as we see it today, for at least five years - with only the Vita control mechanics distinguishing it from that original vision. It was, as a Sony rep put it, a game waiting for the right platform to come along. Sony, and new developer Fun Bits, think the Vita - with its bevy of innovative input options - is that platform.
The game? Essentially, it's a puzzler. Through indirect means - you never once take absolute control of protagonists Lil & Laarg - you must swipe, poke, prod and otherwise cajole your duo through a cadre of puzzles in which failure results in visceral obliteration. Black and white the game may be but it's also a mighty gorefest, with bloodsplosions and macabreations one-a-penny at the slightest misstep.
So what do you do? The game uses the front and rear touch screens, motion control, and possibly other new input methods exclusively, with no input accepted from the Vita's traditional d-pad, analogue sticks, or other buttons. By swiping, tilting or tapping, from front and behind, you must manipulate the environment (tapping the back to make something move forward, for example) or goad a character into moving as necessary.
The world is full of dangers, delight, and interactive gadgetry - from platforms that need to be positioned with the rear touch to mattresses that must be coaxed into a position where they can arrest a falling Lil or toppling Laarg. Failure or success is met with an audio response from the audience of observing enemies, resulting in applause on your demise and obvious disappointment should you succeed. It's a neat effect to be sure, reminiscent of Paper Mario.
It's a good looking game, no question, with highly-stylized characters that boldly wear numbers on their chests that proclaim the number of times they've died - simultaneously offsetting your fear of letting them die with the knowledge that they'll come back, and annoying you at your increasingly ineffective ability to keep them alive. It's also got a great sound-scape, with cute interaction effects, a unique language that ensures the game's translation for the world's disparate markets is a trivial affair, and a sound of vinyl suits rubbing at the groin that is entirely too realistic.
There's no word on when it's coming, or if it will be as a download-only or retail & download release, but we're definitely interested to see and play more of it. It's not without it's kinks while playing, but with the system itself being so new, we can't be sure if our cumbersome attempts at manipulating the game are a result of pre-release software, pre-release hardware, or simple inexperience with either or both.
No matter how it turns out, Escape Plan is not going to be a game anyone that sees it will easily forget. To find out if that's for the right reasons, keep an eye out for our full review sometime next year.