OnEscapee logo CD32

Andy Smith is trapped on an alien world with little idea of what to do next. Unsurprisingly, this is not an unusual situation for him...

Daniel White‘s not had a good day. First of all the telly goes on the blink and then a couple of aliens come crashing through the door and decide to whink him off to another planet. Harumph.

Still, Danny’s a bit wily and puts up a bit of a struggle on the way to the alien planet and manages to crash-land the spaceship he’s being escorted in. This spaceship’s then taken off to the local junkyard where it’s about to be vapourised because the locals think our Dan’s shuffled off this mortal coil.

And that’s the situation at the start of this graphic adventure. Waking up in the junkyard with the vapourising machine just about to turn him into a random collection of molecules. Dan has got to think and act fast in order to survive the game’s seven levels.

OnEscapee’s very much in the Another World camp of graphic adventures – excellent looking, with super-smooth animation and terrific attention to detail.

Constant referrals to the hint book make the game a more painting-by-numbers procedure than it needs to be.

The controls are simple enough with left, right, jump, roll and so on, but you might find the best way to play the game is using the keyboard because I found the joystick to be a little unresponsive at crucial times. And those times really are crucial because there are a lot of timing puzzles to get through in order to progress in OnEscapee.

There are a lot of other puzzles too, and I’m sure some are a lot more illogical than the designers intended. For a start, on the first level, just a few seconds into the game you’ll realise that you can’t get past a fallen log surrounded by an electric fence, so what do you have to do? Wait for the vapourising machine to come along, hover you and blast you under the log. Hmm.

Once you’re past the log you get to run past the crashed spaceship that carried you to the planet and arrive at the top of a cliff. There’s no way down and that vapourising machine’s getting closer all the time. What does Dan have to do? Actually run back to the spaceship and crouch behind it and wait to get blasted off the screen again before running back and jumping down the hole where the spaceship used to be.

Maybe it’s because the designers put such an illogical puzzle in front of the player right at the start of the game that OnEscapee comes across as a game that was designed by the programmers with little or no playtesting from outside.

There is a hint book included on the CD and you’ll find yurself coming back to it again and again, until you get to the point where you can no longer understand the translation and so you’ll get stuck anyway.

...the best way to the play the game is using the keyboard because I found the controls a little unresponsive...

It’s anoying and it’s a shame because this could have been a whole load more fun. Experienced adventure players will begin to see the puzzle solutions after a while, but if you’re not a lateral thinker you’re going to find the game very frustrating indeed. Constant referrals to the hint book make the game a more painting-by-numbers procedure than it needs to be. Time and again you’ll die trying to get past a certain obstacle and time and time again you’ll fail.

Thankfully, and possibly OnEscapee’s biggest saving grace (er, quite literally, folks), is the player’s ability to save the game wherever he feels like it, and the game’s rather clever feature that re-starts the game from the last save position. This does make the frustration of not being able to get past a certain point a little more bearable but it still doesn’t eradicate it completely.

The look of the game and the fabulous soundtrack can’t be faulted. There’s a song that plays throughout the intro which is rather excellent, and there are even going to be free drivers available for graphics cards should you own one. Neither of these make up for the basic flaws in the game design itself, though.

No player minds the odd timing puzzle here and there as long as they’re fair, because then all it requires is a bit of patience and a button press at the right time.

Gamers don’t even mind wacky solutions to wacky puzzles every now and again, as long as there was actually some way of figuring out what you should have been doing. What gamers don’t like and what makes OnEscapee rather disappointing are puzzles that you’d never ever think your head around and there are just a fw too many of those in the game.

This really is a let-down, especially because so much effort has been put into the graphics and sound. Ho hum.

OnEscapee logo CD32 CU Amiga Superstar

█ Price: £29.99 █ Developers: Team Invictus █ Publisher: Sadeness █ Available from: Weird Science

The confusingly titled, Flashback inspired platform puzzle OnEscapee has arrived at last. Does it live up to all the hype and expectation?

Some years ago, French games Software house Delphine redefined the idiom of the platform game with the near legendary Flashback. Eschewing the trend for Italian plumbers, blue hedgehogs and high speed gameplay, Flashback put you in charge of a man stranded on an alien world. Flashback was the game that introduced the world to the narrative platform game, in which thought is more important than reactions and the nature of the challenges presented to the player change to suit the development of the storyline.

The platform genre has since developed along a rather different path. Delphine’ Fade to Black, a de facto sequel to Flashback, lead the way into the kind of 3D adventure which has reached its apex – in terms of popularity at least – in Tomb Raider.

The history of computer gaming has left it to two Hungarian friends, Akos Diviansky and Tama Kozak, to bring the 2D platform puzzler into the last years of the 20th Century. The good news for lovers of those great games of the past is that they have done it with an impressive degree of craft.

The first thing that you will notice about OnEscapee is the intro sequence, an impressively atmospheric, Bladerunneresque piece. All too often intro sequences are nothing more than a short, irrelevant animation that you won’t want to see twice; not in the case of OnEscapee. OnEscapee turned up in the same month as Final Odyssey.

The latter has an abysmal rendered intro sequence quite at odds with the well executed cartoony graphics and rather excellent game which follows, while OnEscapee’s intro sequence is a superb prologue to the narrative of the game. Like the in-game graphics, the intro is mostly hand-drawn. It is stylised, very film noirish in execution. An unusual touch, a theme tune with vocals, adds moodness.

The plot is certainly very cliched – alien visitors abduct the hero for reasons unknown, he struggles and the flyer they are in crashes. He survives, but must now escape his mysterious alien enemy.

The direction, however, is superb. The cut scenes, the clever effects and the dark soundtrack foreshadow the game beautifully – stylistically so similar to the experience of the game that it all segues into the first screen seamlessly.

Although the plot has strong overtones of Flashback and the character animation is almost identical, the gameplay actually has rather more in common with Flashback’s predecessor, Another World. Delphine’s earlier offering was less of a platform game. It was not entirely successful for the simple reason that the more varied gameplay style meant each level used a lot more memory compared to the more homogenous gameplay of Flashback, and as a result it was far too short.

In the era of CD-ROM entertainment, storage capacity is really no concern. As you play OnEscapee you find all the standard moves complemented with a lot of dynamically interactive extras.

It would spoil the plot to give away too much about these extras, but to illustrate the way the gameplay flows, I’m going to give a way a bit. Unless you are desperate to play through the whole game without help, skip the box entitled "In the beginning", I’m only going to reveal enough to get you through the first couple of minutes of play.

Monkey Puzzle
Getting the puzzles in any adventure game right is an incredible balancing act – make everything too intuitive and the game is too easy, make it too obscure and the game is unrewardingly hard. The reason why the Monkey Island games, or Flashback/Another World are respected to this day, is that they did this so well – but everything is flawed.

Anyone who’s played one of these games can probably remember one puzzle they spent hours on, only to discover the solution was something so irrational there seemed to be no reason to try it. It would be a worrying thing if you didn’t get stuck in OnEscapee, otherwise you’d fly through the game far too easily.

Indeed on one or two occasions while playing OnEscapee I did get stuck, and no doubt anyone else playing it would find the same, if perhaps in different places. I suppose only time and the opinions of thousands of players will decide for sure whether Team Invictus have achieved this well enough to elevate OnEscapee to the level of the other games mentioned, but to my own debatable logic the balance was extremely good if not quite classic.

As I got into the logic of the game, and made my way past the first few levels, I worried that there wouldn't be enough of the game to last. Luckily, as the game progresses it also gets more complex. The first level has only a handful of screens, the epic cit level has something like a hundred. You may think the game is passing too quickly, but look at your watch and you could find that you’ve become a little more immersed in the atmosphere than you thought.

Like all games of this type, I’m sure that once you have finished playing you’ll be a little disappointed that there isn’t more, but even when you know exactly how to solve the game it should take a few hours to work your way through.

Certainly I spent more time playing this than is usually spent on a game being reviewed, but even with save positions handily provided I’m left with areas unexplored and bad guys as yet undefeated I’m sure I will be back to finish this game in my spare time! A small scattering of logic games help the game last, but are something I remain ambivalent about. I imagine getting stuck on one for too long would be very annoying.

Nice Icon
OnEscapee is an impressively well produced title. Even the CD icon impressed me, a nice NewIcon of the Logo with a drop shadow, lovely with transparency on. The siple but useful text file is present in a huge range of languages – this is the first game I have come across with instructions in Farsi – and is present in HTML web format also. HTML pages are likely to be the multimedia replacement for Amigaguide documents in the next generation of Workbench, so congratulations to Sadeness getting in on the act quickly and well.

The big congratulations should be saved for Team Invictus, for the representational detail that has gone into OnEscapee. Playing the game is quite an experience. The graphical design of the game is simply superb, and the music beautifully integrated and totally atmospheric. The game is packed with clever graphical tricks, not just animated background detail, but things which interact with the player, such reflection of the main character in the rippling surface of the water level. Cut sequences appear throughout the game and do their job well, the innumerable death sequences making a particular impression on this reviewer. Trying all the different way of dying to see all those darkly humorous death scenes is almost a game of its own.

A menu screen allows you use a slightly faster frame rate if you have an accelerator, and allows you to load and save game positions at any time. The save game file contains a screen grab of the point at which you stopped, a nice touch that removes the old problem of remembering why on earth you called one save position Squid3 and the other GOB. There is support for joystick keyboard and CD32 pad, and a screenmode selector to allow running the game on VGA only monitors.

Currently an AGA equipped Amiga is necessary, but Sadeness have told us they will provide a free upgrade patch for graphics card users in the near future, along with another patch which tweaks the character control method a little. Personally I liked the way the controls were configured, but apparently some of the feedback from the demo requested an alternative.

Technically OnEscapee impresses the way a good demo can, catching you by surprise with a little graphical trick or clever effect. In purely game terms, it is a little flawed. The control is not quite as responsive as it could be, and positioning can on one or two occasions be pretty finicky. Once or twice I had to repeat my actions several times to get something done, but the only time this really stood out was when I rather embarrassingly failed to dodge a falling pile of rubble about 20 times in a row because of something I hadn’t twigged about the controls.

Once you have learned the peculiarities of the control method, this will fade to a minor niggle – you will anticipate the slightly sluggish reaction to jump, for instance, and not end up at the bottom of a chasm so often.

I seem to remember Flashback suffered from this problem too. One saving grace is that the game can be saved at any time, and you can restart quickly right in the thick of where you last died, so you can have another whank at the problem straight away.

Worrying anatomy
I have to say I am very pleased to see a game which plays so much to the Amiga’s strengths. Going for the 2D hand drawn look, Team Invictus have produced something that looks bloody good without having to worry about the horsepower of the CPU. If you find the game a little jerky, it is most likely because your CD-ROM drive is a little slow.

I have to confess that the artwork in imperfect, and more noticeably so just because it is hand drawn. It is after all a lot easier to animate a render than it is to animate 2D artwork. The backdrops are all gorgeous, but some of the anatomy worries me. I am perhaps over sensitive to this having spent rather a lot of time learning to draw figures myself, but the character is not always correctly proportioned.

On the other hand the highly acclaimed rendered cut scenes in Tomb Raider display a shockingly poor grasp of kinetics and a very feeble grasp of human physiognomy – and I’m not just talking bra size.

If the raw draughtsmanship is merely very good, the audiovisual production overall is excellent. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. OnEscapee is a real experience. It isn’t what we are used to, following a rather more sophisticated aesthetic than the average game, more Luc Besson than Lara Croft. I guess some people will be turned off by that, but personally I love it.

OnEscapee is a game which you can load up and show to anyone used to Playstation, Nintendo or PC games without them wondering what you are on. Even if it is not their cup of tea, they are likely to be intrigued. OnEscapee is perhaps more suited to the epithet flawed masterpiece than instant classic, but those flaws aren’t big. The game style is a bit behind the times, but a format well deserving of resurrection.

If you like action/adventure you are almost certainly going to find OnEscapee an excellent purchase. If like myself you thought that Another World and Flashback were superb then you’ve wasted far too much time reading this review and you should be on the phone ordering your copy right now.

In the Beginning...

Craft sent by your mysterious enemies to zap you. You are hemmed in, by a fence on one side and an electrified pylon on the other. If the flyer catches up, it fires a beam of energy at you which knocks you flying. Let it hit you a couple of times and you die horribly.

Let it hit you once, in just the right place, and it will blow you clean over the pylon. You keep running, and after a while find a downed car to shelter in. The flyer comes over head and charges up its beam, leaving you just enough time to flee before the car is blasted. Fortunately for you the blast has opened up a small hole in the floor. Run across this and you fall into safety.

In the cave below, you see something on the ground glinting - a sure sign of something to collect. You walk to it and pull the joystick down to pick it up, then walk further into the cave. Hanging fronds block your path, so you pull the joystick down to crouch, then tap it to the right, carefully timing your hero's roll so he passes under the trashing plants.

You pass a shadowed crevice and into the next area where a panel in the wall appears to have an empty socket in the center. You walk to the panel and push the joystick up, causing the character to put the object he picked up previously in the slot. Back in the previous chamber, the striplights have powered up and illuminate the way into the crevice.

You push the joystick up to walk into the screen and enter another cave. Here a monster hangs from the ceiling, blocking your path. Those huge jaws look dangerous to pass, and sure enough beneath him is the rotting corpse of an unlucky traveller, the bones being picked clean by a group of cave bats. Edge carefully towards the corpse, and as you disturb it with your foot, the bats fly up... now maybe you can slip past while the monster is distracted by the bats?

One what?

Just to make it clear to all the confused people out there, the game is called OnEscapee, pronounced "one escapee". The alternative reading of "on escapee" is just gibberish, while overtones of "on escape" may well have been intended. Just think yourself lucky that the cheesy working title Dreams of the Future was dropped!