Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Beethoven & Dinosaur
Release Date: 09/09/2021
Rating: Everyone 10+
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Space rock operas aren’t something you see in gaming much and The Artful Escape is a visual and auditorial treat for the senses. You play as a young boy who is living in the shadows of his late uncle who was a famous folk singer in the town he lives in. He feels forced to follow in his footsteps when he actually is a metalhead at heart. You are sent on an acid trip of a space rock opera through a universe of weird space creatures and worlds. You meet a man named Lightman (voiced by Carl Weathers of Rocky and The Predator fame) who is the most famous person of this universe and shreds like no other. He wants to help you overcome your fear of being yourself and you go on a journey together to impress the Tastemaker which is the ultimate deciding creature in this universe.
Don’t think too much into the story as it’s mostly filler for just a sidescrolling walking simulator with light rhythm mechanics. You move always to the right and can hold down a button to shred your guitar. It sounds awesome and I never got tired of hearing the licks repeat, and each planet has its own licks, but the visual flair and usefulness of these are never explained and despite being able to just hold down the button and shred while you slide down slopes, jump over platforms, and bounce on things some times the background interacts and the background music will swell as you jump and shred. It’s cool when it does and sometimes gave me goosebumps because the music is so good, but 75% of the time I was just holding down the button not sure when it will trigger an interaction.
At the end of each stage, you come across a boss of sorts that displays a Simon Says-style rhythm pattern. There’s zero challenge here as you don’t need to memorize anything as you can play as the buttons appear. You also don’t get penalized for messing up and that note just starts over. I found this mechanic fairly pointless and just filler as some of these sessions are only a few notes long. It sounded and looked cool, but that was it. There’s pretty much zero gameplay here. The sidescrolling and shredding are literally an excuse to turn this story into a game. I also loved the art. There are crazy creature designs lots of vaporwave aesthetics going on with a menagerie of lights and colors all over the place. Sadly, that’s all the game really offers. While the voice acting is also good, the dialog isn’t anything exciting and I didn’t care at all about any of the characters. The game is so short that you don’t get any time to really invest in these characters.
So what we get is a three-hour adventure with great visuals and music, but boring gameplay mechanics that only enhance the game in rare moments. I also found the engine is poorly optimized as even on high-end hardware the game dipped well below 60FPS on some areas with lots of lighting effects going on. Turning everything down to low didn’t help much, so this is clearly an optimization issue. With that said, The Artful Escape is great for metalheads who want to chill out for a few hours and enjoy the visual treat, but otherwise, you aren’t missing much here. This sadly is just another adventure game where the developers think it’s cute or revolutionary to forgo any gameplay and solely focus on the visuals and music, but they forget this is a game first.