HomeReviews3.5/5 ReviewEscape Academy: Escape From the Past Review

Escape Academy: Escape From the Past Review

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Season passes and DLC have had their detractors, but games like Escape Academy show how they can be a force for good. 

The base game was polished and huge fun – we loved solving rooms with a co-op partner in tow – but it had almost zero replay value. The addiction pangs started kicking in about a week after finishing it. Escape Academy was made for DLC, and that DLC has been trickling in over the past year. Escape from Anti-Escape Island dropped at the end of last year, and now we have Escape from the Past.

Returning to Escape Academy is like visiting an old friend, only for them to shove us in a locked box with a ticking nuclear bomb. 

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Can you Escape From The Past?

Escape from the Past ditches the main character and travels back in time to when Sandy (the current headmaster of Escape Academy) and Eel were first enrolled as students. You play as Sandy as she uncovers a plot to kill her headmaster, which takes you and her back to locations that look remarkably similar to the modern-day versions, considering that decades have passed. 

There is definitely an accusation of laziness to be leveled at Escape From the Past. It returns to various locations from the base game – most notably the Rivals Room, headmaster’s office and kitchen – when the first DLC, Escape from Anti-Escape Island, was an entirely new and novel set of locations. If this DLC capitalised on the time-traveling and showed the campus through a 1970s or 1980s lens, then the time jumps might have been justified. But so much looks the same, nothing looks like it’s attached to a particular time period, and the story doesn’t get much juice out of the fact that we’re thirty years previous. 

The result is an assumption of cost-cutting. We’re going back to the same locations because, well, it’s a whole lot cheaper than creating something new. Shuffle around some potatoes and knives in the kitchen, put a new portrait in the headmaster’s office, and you’re done. It leaves Escape From the Past feeling staler than the first DLC. 

The story doesn’t go anywhere spectacular, either. If you’re after a wodge of Escape Academy lore, with the origins of the school coming into view, then you’re going to be disappointed. Nor do you get to peek behind the facade Sandy or Eel: as the main characters, they barely say a word, and they’re just faceless students for the entirety of the three escape rooms. The only real narrative focuses on the new headmaster, Horatio Windsor, who is a blusterous buffoon without any real depth. Escape from the Past could have been set in the present day with Sandy replaced by an imbecile, and you wouldn’t have to change a thing. 

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Returning to the Diner is a joy

Thank goodness, then, for the escape rooms in Escape From the Past. The DLC could have been a tepid offering if they were sub-standard. But you can breathe a sigh of relief, as the Escape Academy designers are on form, just as they have always been. There are five escape rooms on offer (curiously, two are skippable, which we managed to do on our first playthrough), of which one is killer, another three are very good, and only one is sub-standard, but that last one gets some form of redemption by being the dramatic ending to the DLC. 

Our favourite was Yes Chef, a return to the diner of the base game. You have to make a series of courses for the faculty, and there are vague clues for the ingredients and methods of cooking within a cryptic recipe book. There’s the use of some completely made-up but hilarious ‘chef slang’, which we’re going to use when we cook from now on. It was also the chapter that had us reaching for the photo function on our phone, as well as a lined notebook. So while it was a revisit of an old location, Yes Chef managed to dodge the sense of familiarity to become the highlight. 

A couple of other levels have their issues. The opening return to the Rival Room, named Old Rivals, decides to test the limits of the inventory system. It’s very, very easy to fill your inventory with items, but Escape Academy hasn’t got an adequate method of dealing with that overflow. You can’t drop items willy-nilly: instead, you have to find a location that will accept those items. It did our head in, as we shuffled between keyholes and sockets, dumping the stuff we didn’t want. 

The last level, the weakest of the bunch – A Trying Trial – ambitiously attempts to become a deduction game rather than an escape room. If you’re a true sleuth, you will have worked out whether we liked it or not. The problem is that Escape Academy hasn’t developed a strong deduction system. You can just brute force the suspects and evidence until you get it right, rather than completing intricate puzzles and item mechanics like in other escape rooms. It ends up being a poor man’s Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, rather than a good, functioning escape room on its own. 

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So who was it?

I ended up liking Escape from the Past a deal less than Escape from Anti-Escape Island. The story and setting never captured me in the same way, leaving me a little less enthused for ransacking and completing the rooms. But it still has that puzzle magic, able to conjure up new puzzles or remix familiar ones into brand new shapes. 

There are few better feelings than working alone or with a partner on a seemingly impenetrable puzzle, only for it to click into place. What if the song titles are referring to the portraits in the room? What if the symbols on the Swiss Army Knife mean something? That’s where Escape Academy excels, and we hope that next time – if there is a next time – all of the surrounding stuff could receive an equal amount of focus.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • The ‘Yes Chef’ room is one of the best
  • Retains all of the mastery over puzzle design
  • Some hilarious moments
Cons:
  • Story feels like a misstep
  • Too much re-use
  • Last room is sub-standard
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - iam8bit
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
  • Release date and price - 19 June 2023 | £8.39
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>The ‘Yes Chef’ room is one of the best</li> <li>Retains all of the mastery over puzzle design</li> <li>Some hilarious moments</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Story feels like a misstep</li> <li>Too much re-use</li> <li>Last room is sub-standard</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - iam8bit</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC <li>Release date and price - 19 June 2023 | £8.39</li> </ul>Escape Academy: Escape From the Past Review
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