Of the four games Sony revived for a big cross-play promotion when the PS4 debuted, Escape Plan is the most intriguing because of its origins. The other three titles were released and conceived with a PS3 in mind, but this one was developed squarely for the Vita with no PS3 version in sight. Further complicating matters is that the game used so many Vita-exclusive things that porting it required more than just adapting to the new console's code. The question is whether the port was successful.
The premise of Escape Plan is simple, if a little morose, for a puzzle game. A mysterious figure named Bakuki has plans to turn several of his captives into minions. An outside force is bent on stopping him from accomplishing this task. As a catalyst, you free a person named Lil from his prison. Soon, he'll free a fellow prisoner named Laarg, and together, the duo must survive Bakuki's minions and traps to escape and regain their freedom.
The basic premise for each stage is to get out of the room alive. At first, the challenges are very simple. Move a box out of the way to prevent Lil or Laarg from tripping. Move a platform into place to cover a pit. Cover an electrified grate to prevent from being shocked. The simple nature of some puzzles and solutions are good as tutorials for new mechanics, but since a few rooms only use a single mechanic once, they can be solved too quickly, cheapening the feeling of accomplishment.
Get past these overly simple puzzles, and you come across ones that start to get you thinking. These require you to move objects a certain distance or plug holes but also let you take advantage of Laarg and Lil's powers. For the former, it means using his mass to break through wooden floors and barriers. For the latter, that includes coffee-infused sprints and the ability to inflate himself like a balloon. The puzzles that use multiple mechanics are tough, but the ones where both characters are active are quite challenging.
The puzzles also become challenging because of the fragility of both characters. Getting shot by a blowgun, hitting spinning fan blades or falling from great heights will kill them instantly, but so will mundane things, like tripping over a box. Adding to the humiliation of death is that the number of times each character has died is emblazoned on their chests. It'll either motivate you to keep the number low or die as often as you like to produce a ridiculous number, whatever your mood may be. No matter the approach, there's enough here to keep you busy. Completing the 70+ rooms unlocks more challenges, giving you plenty of game without delving into the DLC.
With the game featuring the same content and story, the question is in how the PS4 version controls differently from the Vita version. For the most part, the controls that were mapped to the directional pad and face buttons on the Vita are mapped similarly on the Dual Shock 4. The d-pad is still responsible for starting and stopping each character, the shoulder buttons let you switch between Laarg and Lil, and the circle button is the universal action button that controls everything, from Laarg smashing through objects to Lil using his caffeine burst or flatulence. Even the act of tilting the system to pilot Lil in inflated mode is intact, as is the use of the touchpad for activating fans or guiding bubbles. Since most of the game revolved around touch, Escape Plan makes do with the left analog stick, since you now control a cursor that's supposed to replicate your finger. Hitting the X button simulates you touching the front of the screen, and hitting R2 simulates you hitting the back of the screen.
On the one hand, this solution works out rather well. One of the complaints from the Vita version is with the touch controls, specifically the sections that used the rear touchpad. Due to the size of the pad, accidentally activating an action was a normal occurrence, and because you couldn't see what you were hitting, you had of a learning curve in place before you could hit the correct spot. With a visible cursor on-screen, elements can be hit with more accuracy. You can't accidentally flub the process since hits in multiple spaces can't be made anymore. On the other hand, cursor control with an analog stick isn't very smooth, and even though you can modify the cursor speed, it can't match the speed of you physically touching the screen. Since some puzzles require fast reflexes to go along with your wits, anything that can slow down things is detrimental. Perhaps a better alternative would be for the game to support the Move controller to get a nice balance of speed and accuracy, but since Sony seems eager to distance itself from the peripheral for now, this is the best we have.
The graphics on the Vita version of the game were a highlight because it added some artistry to the appearance. The black and white give the title a bleak art house film look, and the simple scenery reinforces that vibe. It already looked good on the Vita, and the PS4 version is no different. Though the move from the native Vita resolution to 1080p is expected, the port took into consideration how it would appear on a larger screen. The PS4 version sees an improvement in frame rate, as the game goes from 30fps to 60fps, and even though the title isn't completely dependent on that performance bump, it's welcome all the same.
For a puzzle game, the sound can be classified as quirky due to the score and effects. Every musical piece that plays either belongs to the classical genre or emulates it rather well. Despite the grim nature of some of the puzzles, the selections are exciting or happy, and none of it evokes anxiety or urgency. Most of the effects are normal enough, but every once in a while, you'll get a reaction from an invisible audience: clapping when you figure out a smart solution to a puzzle, gasping at a near-death experience, or laughing at hearing Lil fart. It helps convey the idea that this is like a TV show with a live studio audience, even if it means you have to read into the game imagery and come up with a message for yourself.
At its core, Escape Plan is a mostly good puzzle game. There's a good build-up from easy to hard puzzles, and the tougher ones are truly devilish to figure out. The presentation is still great, and the amount of content is pretty sizeable even if the individual puzzles are short. The only things that hurt the original game were the controls, and while some of those issues are fixed on the new hardware, the act of retrofitting Vita-specific mechanics into a standard PS4 controller also introduces other issues, thereby leveling things out. Escape Plan is interesting enough that it's worth picking up for new PS4 owners who are looking for something more cerebral.
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