The opening cutscene for One Escape is the game we want to play. You’re three long-time friends and bank robbers, looking to make a last smash and grab. The leader is Dook, a duck, the brains of the outfit, and he’s joined by the impact man, Hog (a warthog), and the muscle, Gor (a gorilla). But the heist goes awry, and you’re all caught, thrown into three separate prisons. The authorities are clearly scared that you’d work together to get out, and they’re right, as you all independently make your escape.
So, it’s not really One Escape, but Three Escape: each of the main characters escapes from their three different prisons. You can choose to play a set of twenty levels that feature Dook, twenty with Hog and another twenty with Gor, all focused on getting the three friends to daylight.
We say that the opening cutscene is the game we want to play, because a heist game with three animal friends, each with a particular set of skills, sounds like gold. As it stands, we get a prison escape game where the three friends never meet, their abilities never dovetail together, and – well – it’s not quite the same, is it?
But let’s abandon the hopes that blossomed from the opening, and focus on the game at hand. One Escape is a 2D pixel platformer where the aim is to get to a lift, handily labelled ‘Exit’, at the end of the level. Between you and the exit are numerous obstacles, and getting caught means that you are heave-ho’d to the start to begin again. Those obstacles include wolf guards who are trash at guarding (they have a line of sight that stops a couple of metres in front of their snouts). There are cameras with ‘off’ switches nearby, exposed wires, locked doors, lasers and pipes that leak poison. Luckily, there are scattered methods of avoiding these hazards, including keycards, dark alcoves to duck into, vents, climbable walls and pushable blocks.
You also have some innate abilities, which happen to make the three sets of stages moderately different. Gor can climb up walls, while Hog can push crates and punch both cracked walls and guards. Dook, well, he gets the short straw, but he’s also the starting character, so he’s burdened with the job of tutorialising. With these abilities you can race to the Exit, or you can try to grab some scattered bundles of cash on the way.
That sums up One Escape, so it’s far from complicated. It’s a £4.99 game from prolific producers Ratalaika Games, and it has all their hallmarks: a playtime that sits around the two-hour mark, simplistic but effective graphics, and 1000G tucked into your belt before you can say “Rita Hayworth”. On that last note, the achievements stop popping before you reach the halfway mark, so you can eject if you’re a Gamerscore hussy.
The games that One Escape echoes are many generations old. There’s a lot of Spy vs. Spy and Bonanza Bros. in the 2D pixel levels, keycards and the avoiding of patrol routes. There’s no denying that it feels dated as a result, or nostalgic, depending on your perspective. Another reason for that dated feel is its pace, which is slow and plodding. You will spend the lion’s share of One Escape waiting in shadow, or patiently hoping for patrol routes to line up. That’s not unusual for a game that leans on stealth, but it’s common across all three characters, and it’s one of the few tricks that One Escape pulls.
Variety is the albatross around One Escape’s neck: it doesn’t have enough of it to push into ‘recommendation’ territory. There are only three ways to get caught: get grabbed by a guard, get spotted by a camera (which triggers guards to hunt you, so we’re being generous in counting it as separate), or get killed. These are all present from the third level onwards, and they’ll be there on level sixty. One Escape ultimately doesn’t have a means of escalating the levels, making them less and less surprising as time goes on.
It’s also prone to a couple of infuriations, which One Escape could have done without. Collision detection is extra ropey, particularly with the live cables. When you’re working in the milliseconds between patrol routes, you can’t afford for the game to play dirty and chuck you back to the start unfairly. There’s also a quirk to the level design, where you get into situations where the level is uncompletable. Perhaps you’ve fallen down a hole without the requisite keycard, so you have to restart and do everything in the right order. It’s not a massive issue, but there’s something unsatisfying about ‘death by restart’.
Away from the repetition and niggles, One Escape is serviceable. The platforming is responsive enough, with all the double-jumps you could hope for (although, jumping from a wall-climb disables the double jump, which takes some getting used to), and switching from visible to prone feels good, as you nip into an alcove just in time to avoid the CCTV. When you’re in a flow, it can make you feel like Houdini. The level design, too, does reasonably well with the limited pieces it has, constructing teasers that are never more than medium-difficult, but appreciated nonetheless.
The character abilities also add a thin slice of variety. Gor’s levels feel more twitchy and like a typical platformer, as his wall-climbing tempts the designers into laser sequences. Hog’s feel more puzzle orientated, occasionally like a Sokoban-style game, as you’re pushing crates to trigger switches and opening a straight line to the end. But we’re being generous: these are subtle inflections on very similar puzzles, and One Escape can’t quite manage to make them different flavours. And we’d have ideally combined their abilities together, rather than use them in isolation, like a Lost Vikings: Prison Break edition.
There are twenty-or-so decent levels of platform-puzzling in One Escape on Xbox, but it’s surrounded by another forty levels of filler. With more ways to get caught, and more options to avoid getting caught, this prison escape might have warranted a purchase. Without them, it can feel more like a sentence than an escape, even for a low £4.99.