Release Date: February 14, 2006
Buy 'EXIT': PSP
The Lonely Life Saver
Exit drops you into a series of dire, 2D scenarios to puzzle out a safe path for the victims who don't have the moves or wits to save themselves. It falls to you, Mr. ESC, to jump, climb and take charge to help everyone out alive before the clock runs out. Exit's comic-noir aesthetic is thoroughly and entertainingly realized on the PSP, including a large number of missions, slick, graphic-novel-style visuals and a score befitting Mr. ESC's self-mythologizing. Minor control issues and a persistent sameness to the action are the only significant drawbacks to this most rewarding valentine to PSP owners.
Exit organizes its puzzling into 10 situations with 10 levels each, with more downloadable content on the way. The entire first situation is devoted to training. Here you learn how to use Mr. ESC's physical abilities, as well as the tools of his trade that come into play when simple acrobatics aren't enough to get the job done. You start off with the basics – walking, running, scrambling over crates – and move on to more demanding moves, like climbing on overhead pipes to avoid fires on the ground.
More options for how to proceed present themselves as you find fire extinguishers, ropes, axes and yes, a healthy quantity of keys, to help you smash and otherwise get around obstacles between you and the so-called companions awaiting rescue. The training is thorough, introducing you to several tools and giving hints on where and when to use them, but when you get into the real world of saving the endangered, it's up to you to figure out how to put them to use most efficiently. Rescuing companions becomes more complex than snatching an extinguisher and dousing the fire immediately to your left. And yes, efficiency does count, as you're scored on your flair for speedy rescues at the end of each mission.
The game makes sure you're neither helpless nor blind in your efforts. While it's up to you to lead the unlucky saps to safety, if they want your help, they have to do what you say, just so long as what you say is reasonable. In one of Exit's most engaging gameplay elements, you have the authority to command your companions to move around levels and use objects as you see fit. It's rarely a simple matter of making them follow you to the exit, though. Sometimes you have to take care of environmental hazards before they can get a move on, putting out a fire to clear the way, for example. In another situation, you might send one companion to stand on a pressure switch to open a door while you rescue another, or send one crawling under huge icicles to fetch an axe because you're too big to fit under the gap.
Different types of companions – kid, young adult, adult or patient – have unique abilities and disabilities that you have to use or compensate for if everyone's going to escape in time. Kids can crawl in spaces Mr. ESC can't fit through, but they need help climbing over large obstacles. Adults need help climbing, too, as they're a bit hefty, requiring two young adults to pull them up onto ledges. They have the advantage of superior strength, though, allowing them to push larger objects into position. Patients need to be carried or wheeled around. Once companions are safe, you can read a little bit of background on them in the companion profiles. It's not exactly deep characterization, but the real fun is plotting out their movements and actions, not getting to know their back stories.
Exit provides a map of each level to help you plan escapes. As the complications pile on, running headlong into danger without hitting Select to scan the map is an easy way to get into trouble, especially because it seems possible to get into situations from which there is no escape without the game presenting any feedback that indicates it's time to start over. The Select map shows the locations of the exit and companions, giving you a big-picture perspective on each situation. You can also look around in-game with the analog stick to investigate Mr. ESC's immediate surroundings. The whole time you're planning, however, the clock's still ticking. So the pressure's always on.
The level design provides most of the novel variations on Exit's basic action. You take Mr. ESC from a hospital still shaking from earthquake aftershocks to a hotel flattened by an avalanche to an underground trap holding a group of mobsters, each situation throwing in new ways to obstruct your exit. Some of the changes are cosmetic, while others – like limiting your field of vision to a small circle around Mr. ESC until he finds a flashlight – have more of an impact on how you approach the level.
Most of Exit's controls respond fairly well, though they could use some precision tuning to better reflect Mr. ESC's abilities. The analog stick selects companions and commands them to move to chosen points on the level, and the the triangle button confirms your selections, leaving the directional buttons to control Mr. ESC's basic movements. Jump timing suffers a bit of a delay, as does reversing direction. This takes some getting used to, but is only really a nuisance when getting into the exact spot necessary to lend a companion a helping hand over a crate.
Exit's aggressive colorfulness leaves Mr. ESC and the companions looking somewhat slight in comparison to the rest of the game's exuberant visual flourishes. The characters enjoy a touch of yellow or red here and there to indicate a hat or other accessories, but they always seem on the verge of being swallowed by the splendor of everything going on around them. The retro geometry that underlies the overall design isn't world-rockingly original, but Exit's expression of the style is solid, even if the aesthetic itself is a familiar one.
While the graphics are a demonstrative part of the presentation, the music – rambunctious and full of action-thriller intrigue – contributes just as much to Exit's showy appeal. The voice work is simple, but comes in just this side of too repetitive, with lots of Mr. ESC complaining that he's too old for this line of work. The text that accompanies the still-scene introductions to each situation are worth a read, as that's where you find most of the game's comic material, and where you get most insight into what Mr. ESC's all about.
Exit isn't entirely immune to style-over-substance accusations, and while it certainly doesn't suffer any shortage of prettiness, plenty of satisfying puzzle-solving still manages to stand out among all the polished sights and sounds. The companion-control mechanic and the variety of scenarios do a good job of sustaining your interest even though the gameplay basics remain perhaps too consistent throughout. Add the downloadable content, and PSP-owning puzzler fans have plenty of reasons to give Exit a shot.
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