Monday, 30 September 2013

Inescapable (PC/Mac/Linux)

'Lovecraftian cosmic horror meets 1960-70's science fiction' sets the scene of Inescapable, the debut release from Tokyo-based one-man indie studio Magnetic Realms, a dark tale of routine spacefaring mission gone horribly wrong in the guise of an exploratory platformer.

An unexpected rendezvous with the ominous sounding Templeman Industries in orbit above a mining colony results in you and your fellow crewmates crash landing on alien world, and after making your way to the dig site it soon becomes clear that the miners have found something a little more interesting than the usual minerals and ore. Before long you'll be exploring cyclopean ruins deep beneath the planet's surface, fighting your way through an endless army of monstrosities and solving a variety of item-based puzzles.

It might sound like a mash-up of Dead Space and Metroid, but really in terms of gameplay Inescapable has far more in common with Delphine's 16-Bit classic Flashback. Although the 'use item/upgrade A to progress past area B' style obstacles that you meet on your journey are pretty simple, the story itself is a cerebral affair - there are no cut scenes and the fate of the miners, Templeman's involvement and the incomprehensible horror they have unearthed unfolds via reading fragmented emails, scribbled notes, ancient rock carvings and hieroglyphics. You'll probably need to keep a written record or rough map whilst playing too as it is incredibly easy to become completely lost in the catacombs.

Thankfully, the exploration and backtracking is broken up by a good deal of combat and challenging set pieces, from taking out hordes of Deep Ones to attempting to navigate through subterranean lakes and treacherous wind tunnels. The gun-fights are particularly reminiscent of Flashback, with your hero standing his ground whilst firing rather than simultaneously running and gunning.

For what is essentially a retro platformer, Inescapable is surprisingly atmospheric. Perhaps it's the eerie sound effects and the lack of music, or maybe the context of the narrative or slow pacing, but the overwhelming feeling whilst playing is that of dread. Inescapable kept me hooked all the way through to the end - and although there were a few areas where I really struggled to progress - after a total of 4 hours or so I managed to beat the game.

Was it worth the $9.99 asking price? Would I recommend it to others? Well, to be fair that really depends on your expectations and preference. Inescapable very much feels like a homage to the past rather than a modern indie metroidvania; if you pine for the days when the 16-Bit Amiga and Atari dominated the home computer market, loved Another World, Flashback, Prince of Persia and Exile then you'll find a lot to enjoy here. Inescapable focuses on exploration and discovery rather than ninja platforming and hardcore run 'n' gun action. Likewise, it doesn't lead the player by the hand and you are left to uncover the story yourself and draw your own conclusions as to what the game is ultimately all about.

On a personal level, I see purchasing Inescapable as an investment. I really want to see more narrative-driven games of this style and developer Matt Fielding has proven his ability in all aspects of development by delivering what many would consider to be an over-ambitious solo project. Sure, the game could do with some more varied enemies with improved AI, and an in game map and occasional cut scene wouldn't hurt either, but overall Inescapable is a polished and engaging experience that is a worthy tribute to the games that inspired its creation.

Purchase the game here (from the developer's website).
4 out of 5