The Artful Escape Review
I claimed in a recent listicle that The Artful Escape is my favorite indie game of 2021 that I didn’t review. With The Artful Escape releasing earlier this year on the PS4, PS5, and Switch, I had to dive in again. Coming from some Annapurna Interactive titles that missed the mark with me, which they don’t do often, The Artful Escape was the one that turned it all around.
The Artful Escape is a coming-of-age rock opera told from the perspective of Francis Vendetti, the nephew of a folk legend who’s making his debut concert on the anniversary of his uncle’s death. In an encounter with the universe’s very own rock legend, Lightman, Francis is recruited as the opening act for their final galactic tour. Little does Francis know that there’s more to this journey than he expected, putting his life on the line for his art.
Boy Meets Worlds
How do we even describe the genre of The Artful Escape? I’d like to say that it’s part walking simulator, part linear narrative, and part rhythm game. It’s a linear narrative following Francis’ journey from his town to the farthest reaches of the universe and back again, which starts out as a walking simulator exploring your little town of dreamy and colorful Colorado.
When you meet Lightman and join his entourage, things start to change. Walking takes a back seat and the moment you receive your guitar, you’re able to shred sweet rock and roll, double jump, glide, and do other fun stuff as you platform your way throughout mostly psychedelic worlds that are fantastical in nature.
Visually, I found The Artful Escape relaxing despite the sensory overload of color, light, and sound. Scored with a progressive rock that contrasts its mellow folksy beginnings, it’s really easy to differentiate Francis’ world from the newly explored depths of the universe.
The Artful Escape employs various environmental effects that groove to the strum of your guitar. On Calypso, you switch on the street lamps and store lights and bring the world to life. On other planets, a desert world suddenly experiences rain, a snowy tundra becomes a winter wonderland, and a jungle trek transforms into a tiki jungle cruise. If nothing else, this audio-visual spectacle is something that really sparks joy.
Art direction truly stands out in The Artful Escape. Every new planet has its own visual style and gimmick that brings the world to life. At times, I’d just walk around to get a better feel for the world and see what effect my shredding has with random objects. Spamming the shred button doesn’t get old, and after a while, you’ll really feel that you’re actually playing it despite just hitting a single button.
A Rock Opera Simulator
One thing I didn’t exactly jive with when I started the game was the dialogue choices. They don’t exactly have any long-term consequences, but what they really do is mold Francis’ experiences through the tastes of the player. You can make him as milquetoast he started with, a complete cynic, or embrace his magnificence as an intergalactic superstar. There are no right or wrong answers, so you can project onto Francis however you want him to act and be the rock star you want him to be.
What punctuates this game are the rhythm challenges presented when you face off against different alien creatures as you impress them with your art. It’s a quirky, albeit ironic, way of going through the process of superstardom, and these will surely add another layer of challenge throughout your adventure. You can always repeat these challenges when you fail because they’re actually fun and add some semblance of interactivity to this mostly linear narrative.
The visual representation of the controls is presented in an easy-to-spot place during said rhythm challenges. It may be a bit jarring as you start since they contrast from the platforming gameplay throughout the first few points of the game, but it’s a shame that only a few are available throughout The Artful Escape since they’re really well done.
The humor infused in this game is quirky enough to be enjoyable and doesn’t cross the boundary of cringe. The story is enjoyable from beginning to end and The Artful Escape doesn’t force a message in its narrative.
A minor bump for me is that the name voice actors in this game like Mark Strong and Jason Schwarzman didn’t exactly stand out. Lena Headley was brilliant as she has a distinctive voice and flair, but the other actors didn’t quite meet the same bar. This feels similar to how other titles from Annapurna’s stable allow for name recognition but are not utilized as best as they could be (Bryce Dallas Howard in Maquette and the tandem of James McAvoy and Daisy Ridley in 12 Minutes come to mind).
The Artful Escape is around 4-6 hours long with a chapter select available after completing the game to relive favorite set pieces and music while sweeping up some trophies and achievements along the way. While I wish that it could have ended with a little bit more oomph, the overall experience was such a treat.
What we liked:
- Awe-inspiring art direction that paints a unique psychedelic vision of the universe.
- A great soundtrack that shifts from folk rock to progressive rock that creates a memorable rock opera experience.
- A quirky story with fun dialogue that doesn’t become cringe-inducing or annoying.
What we didn’t like:
- Name voice actors didn’t really add to the experience.
- Lack of replayability.
Verdict: Buy It!
The Artful Escape is one of my favorite indies from 2021 with its unique audio-visual presentation of a coming-of-age Rock Opera that is a psychedelic sensory overload of sight and sound. Combining different gameplay mechanics such as platforming, rhythm game, and a personalized dialogue choice mechanic, it is a title that needs to be experienced firsthand. While the story is told from Francis’ perspective, much of what personalizes this game is your individual choices that create his superstar persona.
There are many aspects of this game that can be a different experience for different players, but the main storyline is clear and at the very least, the spectacle of light, color, and rock & roll will definitely stand out. The conversations you’ll have will be memorable, and your own personal choices really punctuate the piece with that personal stamp you alone can add to the experience.
*The Artful Escape was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publishers.