I’ve been playing a lot of re-releases of games, as of late. So much, that it seems as though “re-release” is going to end up being my personal gaming theme of 2018 (Last year it was “Persona“). Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a complaint or anything. On the contrary, between the likes of games such as Megadimension Neptunia VIIR and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Ultimate Edition , I’d say that 2018 being “The Year of the Re-Release” is actually a pretty great thing. Alas, not everything is worthy of being re-released. Sometimes, a game just doesn’t have what it takes for a second round. And, wouldn’t you know it, Without Escape is one such game.
“That’s not fair!” I’m sure some of you are saying. “You can’t compare a game like this to games like Neptunia and Shantae!” You’re right, I can’t. That would be very unfair. But I’m not doing that. I’m comparing their viability as re-releases. A game doesn’t necessarily have to be big to warrant a re-release. Look at Gunhouse, for example. That’s a small, and fairly simple game. But it was still good enough to release on multiple systems. Without Escape just isn’t. It’s a short and fairly cliched point-and-click adventure, which originally released back in 2012 on the Xbox Live Indie Arcade, and, though it might sound kind of harsh, that’s probably where it should have stayed.
Home Again, Home Again
Without Escape‘s story begins with you, the protagonist, arriving home after a long day at (presumably) your university. After finally escaping the life-draining clutches of higher learning and making it back to your house, you notice that you seem to be alone. Although initially confused by this, you soon remember that your parents mentioned that they would be visiting your grandparents, shrug off your isolation with a heaping helping of lasagna, and go to sleep. Except for the fact that the “sleeping” thing doesn’t turn out too well. Soon after turning in for the night, you find yourself awakened by strange noises coming from other parts of your house. Curious and understandably frightened, you decide to begin exploring your house for whatever — or whomever — is behind the noises.
To its credit, the game does do a decent job of building up tension initially. The ominous nature of the noises you hear in tandem with the game’s sharp-looking pre-rendered visuals make for a nice, spooky setup. And that goes double for the “alternate dimension” you’re eventually thrust into. Unfortunately, mysterious noises, ambiance, and mood lighting can only take you so far. Behind its handful of tension-raising parlor tricks, Without Escape largely lacks a narrative. Without spoiling anything, you’re basically just walking around a set of houses for a little while without ever being given much pretext, all for the game to quickly say warp it all up within the last 5 minutes. It feels less like a story, and more like the developer was trying to show me all of their cool ideas. Which, admittedly, some of them are. It’s just too bad that they lack proper execution.
Point and Click, That Does the Trick
There isn’t actually too much to explain when it comes to Without Escape‘s gameplay. It’s your basic horror-themed point-and-click adventure which, in a move hearkening back to old-school PnC games, makes use of a first-person view with static images, rather than actually letting players control a character. The game is incredibly straightforward overall, asking that the player do little more than wander from room to room, picking up a few items along the way, and make use of what they have when appropriate. As someone who isn’t exactly what you’d call “point and click-savvy”, I can’t say that I minded the game’s simplicity too much. However, for those of you who grew up with the likes of Sierra, Without Escape won’t be much of a threat.
Along with knowing when and where to use certain items, the game also features a couple of puzzles. “A couple,” in this case, meaning exactly two. And they’re both clock-related. Neither of them are bad, with both of them taking a little bit of creative thinking, but I will admit that the first puzzle that the game presented me with threw me for a loop. As with all point-and-click games, however, I feel like the overall difficulty of Without Escape‘s puzzles boil down to personal perception. I’m aware that not everyone will be confused just because I was. Still, it is always frustrating to have to stop dead in your tracks due to something not making much sense.
As an avid Retsupurae fan, I’ve learned that there’s one that there’s one thing to avoid when it comes to horror point-and-click titles. One cardinal sin which, above all else, must never be committed; that cardinal sin, of course, being filling your game with more keys than you’d find on a janitorial keying. Truthfully, Without Escape doesn’t reach that level in terms of how many keys are in the game. But you will be doing a fair bit of lockpicking. While finding keys and opening doors is kind of a gameplay staple, certain genres (like ones involving pointing and clicking) seem to over-rely on this trope. Most point-and-clicks have gotten better in our current year. But this game wasn’t made in our current year. Or last year. Or even the year before. And that’s probably why it’s suffering in this aspect.
It’s not just the keys, though (although that is a major part of it). Without Escape is a product of its time. It was, as I’ve already said once before, originally released back in 2012 on the Xbox Live Indie Arcade — a budding, semi-post-flash marketplace. The term “indie” didn’t carry the same weight around that it does now (for better or for worse), and the market — at least from what I can remember of it — was primarily composed of developers desperately trying to grab whatever players however they could through a menagerie of low-quality, and often times very weird, titles, and watered-down clones of titles which already existed. To its credit, I don’t think that Without Escape is low-quality. Especially not for its time. But it does feel watered down in today’s marketplace. Everything about this game feels rather tired, and overly trope-filled. And those qualities are very observable to the player.
Alone in the Dark
Truthfully, I can’t really recommend Without Escape. But I’m not saying that because I found the game to be objectively “bad”. It’s not bad, it’s just… old. And I don’t mean old in the retro way. Some games just don’t age well, and Without Escape, try as it might, is one of those games. If you’re looking for a short, classically inspired point-and-click game, then maybe you’ll end up meshing well with this game. It isn’t terribly expensive, either. However, for those expecting a PnC with a bit more gravitas, this might not be worth your time.
FINAL VERDICT: 2/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Bumpy Trail Games ; Developer: Bumpy Trail Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: April 24, 2018 ; ESRB: N/A ; MSRP: $6.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Without Escape given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.