There are times that I will download a game with the full intention of only grabbing all the achievements and turning it off again. I had every intention of The Artful Escape being a quick once-and-done achievement run but the game surprised me in more ways than one. It was a rock opera coming-of-age story that I nearly missed out on.
However, it might not be set in the correct medium that best suits its characters, adventure, and aesthetic. It might have done much better exploring other ways to deliver its fantastical adventure and space musical.
Coming of Age Sci-Fi Adventure
Coming-of-age stories are a dime a dozen now but that’s because “coming of age” is not the same for everyone. We all fixate on a few things during those transformative years of our lives. Whether we are struggling with the responsibility of getting on without a parent or the budding relationships we are beginning to take part in.
There are a million and one ways that this sense of growing up can be explored. But almost all of them focus on being comfortable with trusting oneself and their needs.
The Artful Escape explores this concept of coming into one’s own self through creative pursuits. The protagonist is Francis Vendetti, a folk singer in a small fictional town in Colorado who is set to participate in a festival commemorating the anniversary of one of his famous uncle’s biggest folk albums.
Everyone in the town is expecting him to play and be following in his uncle’s footsteps. Some even say they want him to be just like his uncle while at the same time saying he can never do that. The entire town is placing a lot of pressure on Francis and this isn’t helped by Franchis’ own insecurities about the matter.
The game opens with Francis sitting on an outlook strumming his guitar until he completely let’s loose with some rifts that won’t place you by a campfire in the woods but instead on a space station floating through the stars. Francis comes alive here and the world seems to rejoice at the sight and then a stranger interrupts him and he shuts down again. The stranger’s name is Violette and she is the catalyst for Francis’ growth.
Violetta sees that Francis isn’t happy with the folk stuff and sees that his true passion is in a genre that coincides with his sci-fi interests. After speaking with Violetta, Fracnic can’t get her words out of his head and they follow him to bed where is woken up by a strange alien who takes him to another planet to talk with a universe famous guitar player.
Francis is introduced to another way to perceive his musical tastes in the grand scheme of his life. Through the different venues that he goes to and the people that he meets. There are times where The Artful Escape will give the player control of dialogue decisions to give their play through a little more personality but all the decisions lead to the same result.
The options are merely cosmetic and give Francis a little bit of the player’s own personality. These are more flavor text than anything most of the time, but sometimes these choices help to define Francis’ new identity. What kind of space rockstar will he become? ]
One that is from a distant galaxy where gravity doesn’t behave normally? Or some backwater asteroid? These small details help to give the player a stronger connection with Francis and his journey through space to discover himself.
Poster Quality Backdrops to Match the Tale
The first thing that struck me while playing through The Artful Escape was how beautiful the background images could be. Whether Francis is walking through his small town of Calypso or is prancing through the forests of some distant planet, the images that are floating by are incredibly beautiful to look at. In fact, before I managed to become connected with Francis, these backgrounds were what I was playing the game for.
The Artful Escape can look like a digital image that belongs in an artsy cafe one moment and the next have visuals that would appear in a sci-fi epic or someone that was having a really good trip. It was a visual treat, and I was a sucker for every moment of it.
What’s better is as the narrative progresses, these settings and backdrops seem to flow with Francis’ transformation. The first planet is a cold forest with hardly any signs of life anywhere. He must become comfortable with himself and his playstyle before he can move on to a more vibrant world where people are abundant.
Another world appears right after he just chose new clothes for himself to match his new persona, which is a great evolution of a line from Violetta where she questioned the clash between his sound and his fashion sense.
At the time, Francis had wanted to match the style that he thought he was expected to. However, by the time he makes it to this planet, he has begun to outgrow that mentality, as can be seen when the entire city begins to question his taste and even sends the military after him.
This world is a lot more vibrant and has people everywhere screaming at Francis, but he keeps rocking on. They even blast his live image on giant tv screens, but he isn’t intimidated. He has finally begun to outgrow that old self. The best thing that The Artful Escape is able to do is tie its storytelling and levels’ theming together so neatly.
Gameplay Seems an Afterthought
The Artful Escape is really just a story to be told rather than be experienced through a player. It often felt like this video game would have made a much better short film, especially with the impressive stylistic choices that were made throughout.
Because the gameplay ranged from choosing your favorite dialogue branch, simplistic platforming, and a “Simon Says” style rhythm game.
As I said earlier, the dialogue trees are fine, and they allow the player to create a better connection with Francis. For example, the player can create their own stage persona through their fashion choices and the background decisions they choose for Francis.
You can even create a two-word name from pre-selected words. My Francis became the Exquisite Escape. However, the trees are limited and, beyond these more cosmetic choices, will never evolve into anything more than the single vision the developers intended.
Between the final jams of each world, Francis will have a world to walk through to learn about himself and where he wants to take his music. So most of the game is walking around or performing very basic platforming like slides and jumps.
Even if Francis “dies” by falling in a hole, he will simply respawn to a section a few seconds before. There is never much risk in the game, which only aids in it being a very story focused experience rather than an engrossing game.
The meat of the gameplay are the jams which follow a Simon Says rhythm game that the player has to copy on their controller to perform music. The music is fun, and there are actually times where the simple game becomes interesting for a second, but I feel like more could have been done to make the gameplay more interactive.
If I was already familiar with a setting and there was no one talking, I was bored. I didn’t want to walk across the world to play Simon Says most of the time. I just wanted to watch Francis overcome his insecurities about his creative identity and watch Francis slide down a ramp playing the same rift for the hundredth time.
The Artful Escape is a beautiful game that fully captures both its folk and sci-fi aesthetics perfectly. Though the writing can be a little cliche at times, overall, I felt it was a unique and enjoyable experience that actually made me smile once or twice. However, the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired and left me more bored than interested throughout most of it. Luckily, it’s currently on GamePass, so if you have a few hours to burn, it might be worth it. 6.5/10