"Is This Really What We Settle For?"
"The Artful Escape" did not give me a good first impression from its trailer - it felt immature, too whimsical to provide a coherent plot point, and looked to have a far too simplistic gameplay loop. Alas, trailers can indeed mislead, so I decided to forget all of that and try the darn game out myself...and I absolutely loved it! Well, for the first hour or so...
This game is not good. You're likely already seeing the effect this game had on my sanity throughout the introduction of this review, but I pretty much felt like I was being subjected to torture through the medium in a way I haven't really experienced before. See, the game misleads you with its marketing in order to make you think it is cliche, then it runs you down with a GREAT opening sequence. You'll think to yourself, "This is something special! The art is really solid, the characters aren't too shabby, and listening to guitar solos rules!".
And then it gets pretentious.
Look, this game says a whole lot of nothing about what it means to be an artist, what the depths of a life-changing journey can do to a person, and what individualism at its core really is. Characters have no real reason for existing, the narrative AND plot both lack a sense of seriousness, and the humor is lazy and surface level without exploring the medium of music with much depth. All this is going on while in the background, the gameplay literally devolves into holding the right stick in a direction, occasionally talking to a character, and playing a f*ckin Simon Says guitar game.
Without its albeit pleasing aesthetic, this game would be a dumpster fire of contrived character interactions, lazy worldbuilding, and piss-poor repetitive music. Yet even the art style is shallow and soulless. Sure, it LOOKS good, but there isn't really a sequence where the game utilizes its art style for deepening the plot, showcasing its universe with nuance, or really painting anything as truly alive (at least in a somewhat believable sense). It's basically all spectacle without a sense of substance.
Now if you enjoyed the game or enjoy games like this, don't worry - I'm not here to demean you (even though internet opinions ignite pseudo proxy wars every five minutes). I'm really more concerned with why people criticize and analyze games as art so harshly in general, and yet when a game presents itself as something "deep" or "artful" (I mean it's in the friggin' title), there's a massive lack of analysis for its message, game design, and overall presentation besides the fact that the player "found it fun". It's just a question that I guess will haunt me forever while being in love with the medium...
...just like this game will sort of hover over me for a long time in a sort of Freddy Krueger type of way. It haunts me in my dreams, it makes me question reality, and it darn well tried its best to put me to sleep in order to murder me. Well, maybe not so much the last one, but I bet with more time I might uncover more about this "escapist" experience.
Yeah, I don't recommend it.
Final Verdict: 3/10 (Poor)