After years of anticipation, The Artful Escape is finally out. However, after years of anticipation, does Beethoven and Dinosaur’s debut title burn brightly like the far reaches of the cosmos, or burn out like a microscopic comet in the atmosphere? Let’s find out.
Beginning with the story, The Artful Escape weaves the tale of Francis Vendetti. A 17-year-old musical prodigy living in the early ’70s, Francis wants more than what is expected of him. He is the nephew of the late Johnson Vendetti, a Bob Dylan-esque folk singer who died at a young age. The weight of his uncle’s legacy weighs deeply on him, as his family and friends want him to follow in Johnson’s footsteps. However, Francis himself is more Bowie and less Neil Young, and his struggle brings him attention from the mysterious Violetta. Impressed by his sound, Violetta, with the help of an assortment of characters such as a giant brainstem in a floating jar and an ageing rock god, whisks Francis away on a cosmic journey.
The story of the game is quite enjoyable, handling surprisingly complex lore with a knowing wink and smile at the audience. This is compounded by great performances across the board, including big-name talents such as Jason Schwartzman, Carl Weathers, Lena Headey and Mark Strong. Weathers, in particular, makes an impact as the aforementioned rockstar Lightman, whose layers are more complex than meets the eye. However, it is the performances of relative newcomers Michael Johnston and Caroline Kinley who make the biggest impressions as Francis and Violetta respectively. Their work is great, and they both have promising careers ahead of them.
Moving on to the gameplay, Artful Escape is unique in that it is a strictly non-violent platformer. Your goal is simply to interact with the environment by playing, shredding and bringing life to the unique alien locales. Along the way, you will encounter some puzzles and “boss fights” (using the term loosely here) that involve playing a Simon-like minigame on your guitar. None of these puzzles or platforming challenges are particularly complex, and the checkpoint system is very forgiving, but that’s also the point.
Artful Escape is a journey meant to be experienced, synced beautifully to the music in the game. It shares more DNA with a walking simulator than a nail-biting platformer like Meat Boy or Ori and it works to the game’s credit. This title is an accessible and engaging journey that is absolutely worth taking, just don’t go in expecting a major challenge. The game also encourages replayability with ample customization options and dialogue choices.
Moving on to the aesthetics and this is where The Artful Escape truly shines. The blending of hand-drawn artwork with crazy particle effects and environments is a wonder to behold. It is easily one of the biggest feasts for the senses on the Series X right now, standing firmly alongside Psychonauts 2 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps. However, there is more to aesthetics than just graphics, and the music of the game is just as strong as the artwork. From the level themes to the boss fights to the folk music played in the early game, there is a ton of great music here. Mind you, this is to be expected, as Johnny Galvatron, a rockstar himself, serves as creative director.
In regards to the performance and this is the only area where Artful Escape takes a bit of a hit. In my experience, the framerate was oftentimes inconsistent. There were stutters and large, noticeable sub-30fps drops. Details on some objects or even the items themselves also failed to load in during some cutscenes, leading to a distracting effect (this one is less so on the team, as I have experienced the same issue in several other Unreal Engine titles).
It is worth noting that the build I played was one from prior to release, and the team seemed aware of some of the issues. I also need to make this abundantly clear: none of these issues are dealbreakers. In fact, they are the nittiest of nitpicks. The Artful Escape, across the board, is great.
Finally, to touch briefly on the value of the title, and it’ll cost £16.74 for you to get involved in The Artful Escape. However, one of the biggest upsides to this game is that it is available in Game Pass (and Apple Arcade for those in Apple’s ecosystem), meaning the barrier to entry here is super low. The game only takes around 3 hours to complete but does hold replay value, and so this is ultimately the perfect example of something to try with Game Pass, as I think many people will find themselves enthralled with the end result.
All in all, The Artful Escape is well worth the wait. An exciting, well-acted feast for the senses, it does not disappoint. There are a couple of technical issues that need to be sorted, but on the whole, games this imaginative and enthralling don’t come along very often.
Take in The Artful Escape from the Xbox Store