Platform: PS Vita
Also on: PS4, PC, 3DS, Xbox One, Switch
Developer: Bumpy Trail Games
I’ve never understood gaming nostalgia. As someone who’s lived through a pretty significant chunk of gaming history, I have no problem acknowledging that a lot of games from back in the day really haven’t aged poorly, and I’d much rather play something from today than something from (or something slavishly indebted to something from) thirty years ago.
Without Escape obviously doesn’t agree with this sentiment, since it’s meant to be a tribute to point-and-click adventure games of the ‘early ‘90s. The problem with this, of course, is that point-and-click adventure games of the early ‘90s often sucked, with impenetrable logic and pointless busywork of going back and forth between locations.
In fairness, I should note that Without Escape doesn’t have lots and lots of impenetrable puzzles, so much as it has one very stupid bit of game design at its core. But it’s so monumentally dumb, it’s enough to sink the entire game, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll give you a moment to stop reading, in case you’re concerned about spoilers.
Without Escape is a horror game, where you basically walk back and forth around your house, clicking on pretty much everything. You wake up in a room, you go downstairs to click on a clock, you find a key, you go back upstairs, you open a room, you go back downstairs, you find more keys, etc., etc. It’s basically a loop of key-finding. As you near the end of the game, about fifteen minutes later, you — and here comes the spoiler — click on a desk, and find out that you’ve taken too long to get to that point, and then you’re just stuck walking around the house until you quit and restart.
At no point prior to that does the game ever tell you that you’re being timed. It’s a completely arbitrary design decision that’s never communicated to you, but, again, it’s enough to render all your progress pointless and make you start over from the beginning — or from your last save, but since the game never tells you how fast you need to be going, you’re safest just starting over.
To be fair, Without Escape isn’t very long. Losing all your progress, in this case, is only 15 minutes or so. So it’s not as if you’ve wasted hours on the game before realizing that you’ve overlooked something from the very beginning. But still, it’s a pretty disrespectful mechanic to build the whole game around an unseen, never-mentioned clock, and to make players start over again from the beginning for no apparent reason whatsoever.
As for my feelings towards Without Escape up until I realized I had to play it over again: I was mostly indifferent, with some degree of annoyance at the fact you either had to turn the game’s brightness up so high that you couldn’t see anything near a light source (which is a pain, since you have to read a note next to a lamp very early on), or you can leave it as is, and barely be able to see anything at all (except, I guess, for that note next to the lamp). Contrary to how the game describes itself, you’re not solving any puzzles — just clicking around, picking up objects, and walking back and forth between rooms.
In that respect, I guess, Without Escape is a pretty perfect imitation of the games it admires and emulates. It’s a waste of time — albeit a short one — that reminds you of just how far games have come from the early ‘90s.
EastAsiaSoft provided us with a Without Escape PS Vita code for review purposes.