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No Escape

Genre: Action Developer: Psygnosis Publisher: Sony Imagesoft Players: 1 Released: 1994

I sure that anyone who’s collected and played classic games enough experiences the occasional dream about a Wunder-haul. You go (or fly, I guess) to Goodwill and find a huge garbage sack filled with all the rare games of your dreams in perfect condition, and the bag is yours at a sweet $20. Pretty comforting thought, until you wake up and realize you’re still just a broke college student bartering with a grimy farmer at a flea market over a cart-only General Chaos. Then there’s the opposite dream – which I have regularly – wherein you get a stack of games for Christmas and guess what? They ALL suck. The details are hazy, but I’m fairly certain that in that pile I would find at least one copy of No Escape, probably wedged in between Wayne’s World and Dark Castle.

Does anyone even remember the film this game is based on? 1994…Ray Liotta… Any of this ringing a bell? I remember seeing it ages ago on a dull Saturday morning. My impression was that it seemed to have been custom-made for fading into obscurity, and in the same way I say the game is perfect – for being forgotten. It’s not an annoyingly common cart, which keeps it out of both garage sales and the gamer’s mind; it’s not especially rare, which prevents it become any sort of remarkable find. There is nothing special about the development process or the publishing house. In fact, there is nothing about it that is memorable other than one awful truth: that it is the epitome of sloppy movie cash-ins.

The lengthy intro cut scene depicts the plight of our hero through fairly respectable digitized graphics, stuck on a special prison island as punishment for his multiple escape attempts. After that the actual game begins, and my jaw drops in horror. The box claims to have rotoscoped graphics… maybe true, but this isn’t how I remember Flashback. Animations are dismally choppy and awkward, and the detail on the character sprites is atrocious. Your head is reminiscent of Intellivison sprites, and that’s a bad thing – a caveman’s protruding jaw; a multi-shaded rectangle for a face.

Sometimes in 2D hand-drawn games you can see the care that went into the art, but there’s no hint of that here. Gamers don’t usually discuss the digitized craze of the mid ’90s with fondness, and No Escape is one of the reasons why. I don’t care whether it’s rotoscoped or digitized or what; the point is that the graphics are soulless and don’t even have the smoothness usually associated with rotoscoping. The levels themselves are about as similar to Flashback as the character art is, which is to say it’s a far cry. Tiling abounds, as do nondescript blobs of various colors I assume are meant to be tropical plants and wonders.

This…from the guys who gave us Toy Story.

But let’s not forget about the sound, while we’re on the subject of presentation. Oh, yeah – it’s bad, too. Seemingly random synth compositions insult the Genesis’ sound chip, and the voice and sound effects are so downsampled that they’re only barely recognizable. There’s no tonal nuance or detail, just scratchy blasts of audio that leave a ton to the imagination. I hesitate to say it sounds 8-bit, but it really does. And I know that the more technically inclined will rush to defend what’s going on here, but I ask you, how is the overall quality of the sound job? Atrocious.

It doesn’t really matter how many sound channels are being used (I doubt it’s very many) or whether or not it’s got stereo when there was so little effort put into the compositions and sound effects. It’s just horrible, people, and even if other games trump it in certain areas, I can’t remember one that excelled at misery as much as No Escape does in all areas.

This…from the guys who gave us Wiz ‘n Liz.

These are all impressions that can be taken during the very first moments of the game. But when you actually start running around it gets worse. The first level is an escape stage (appropriate) that involves running to the right, jumping, falling into pits, and climbing, all the while being chased by poorly animated tribals. There’s no point in stopping to fight, as your only attacks – a weak punch and low kick – do little damage. Better yet, your opponents constantly respawn, even when they leave the screen. Spiked tires and other traps fall into your path, and after four or five unavoidable cheap hits you get to the end.

And voila, next stage, where you are forced to actually use that punch and kick to knock the crap out of a vaguely intimidating guy with a spear. But the combat is shallow, to say the least, and the “exhilarating” fight is actually nothing more than standing next to him and hammering your attack button. There’s no way to lose, luckily, if you punch fast enough. After that, it’s on to (even more) running from cannibals. From there on out there are obtuse, poorly constructed puzzles, various enemies to dispatch of in flurry of button mashing, and lots of indecipherable items to pick up. (Good thing there’s an inventory screen, or I wouldn’t know what anything is!)

This…from the guys who gave us Lemmings.

Why, Psygnosis? What went wrong? Where is your trademark flair? Your coding excellence? Your quality? The game tries so hard to be Flashback. But just like Generations Lost before it, it fails spectacularly. Much of the gameplay dynamic is lifted straight from Delphine’s adventure classic, but without the presentation, which admittedly was the biggest draw of Flashback, or the planning? Not a good thing. It’s up to you, in the end, as to whether or not you want to try this out.

But I’ll tell you right now it’s not worth it. It’s one of those games that doesn’t deserve three bucks, or even a second glance, at the Salvation Army. I spent the time and the money on it already so that you won’t have to. And believe me, I’m wishing I had both back. As it is, if I hadn’t been reviewing the game then I wouldn’t even have had the interest to play past the first two stages. No Escape is awful. End of review.

SCORE: 2 out of 10

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2 Comments

  1. goldenband says:

    Once you get past the opening sequence (which is a terrible way to start out), No Escape is much better than the review makes it sound. I wrote about the game in the Nov. 2013 Reader Roundtable; in a nutshell, it’s actually a fairly clever, non-linear action/puzzle/platformer that’s vaguely in the vein of Flashback, though the controls and presentation aren’t as good.

    Alex is right that the game can be unnecessarily cryptic, especially the item construction — but with enough experimentation most puzzles can be figured out logically, though there are some things I still don’t understand about the game (especially the weapon system).

    It’s not a great game, but it’s a very decent one, and I’d put it at about 6/10.

  2. Alex Chefan says:

    The music in this game is good. This is solid game. The only thing that bothers me is the stiff controls and somewhat cryptic gameplay.

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