What is it? A story-driven musical sci-fi rock opera through space.
Release date Out now.
Expect to pay £15 / $20
Developer Beethoven and Dinosaur
Publisher Annapurna Interactive
Reviewed on AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Radeon RX 5700 XT, 8GB RAM
Link Official website (opens in new tab)
Francis Vendetti is in a bit of an artistic rut. He's a teenage musical prodigy who has been given the opportunity to continue his dead uncle's legacy, a legendary folk singer who could spin poetry from a few guitar twangs. But Francis' musical ambitions lie in a different type of music—the cosmic kind. He dreams of rock n' roll riffs so epic they'll traverse dimensions and jams so extreme they'll create rifts across the galaxy.
The Artful Escape is a story-driven platforming adventure about Francis' journey to rock stardom. In his quiet Colorado hometown, the community is expecting him to continue his Uncle's musical legacy and have planned a debut show that will kick start his career. But on the night of the performance, he gets whisked away on a strange intergalactic adventure, one that helps him discover his new psychedelic stage persona.
As Francis begins to hop through a kaleidoscope of planets that span the far reaches of the galaxy, something still tethers him to his Uncle—an identity he can't escape. These two personas leave our musical genius stuck in the middle, a musician caught, literally, between two worlds.
On Francis' quest to establish the most elaborate stage persona the world has ever seen, you'll get to see a magical mystery tour of colourful landscapes, jamming with various intergalactic beasts and beings. You'll be impressing celebrity nightclub hosts, lighting up interstellar cave discos, and shocking alien civilisations with your new groove.
As you travel through levels, it's less about platforming and more about putting on an epic show. As you prance through the world, you can prompt Francis to start shredding on his guitar which lights up the world around him as he travels through it. Plants and flowers flare with light, stars shatter into fireworks, and creatures burst to life—it's a duet between you and the environment.
Thrashing on the guitar is solely for visual and audio gratification and much of each level is just you running to the left and occasionally platform jumping. There's so much going on around you that it's a glorious spectacle, and you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. Sliding down snowy peaks rocking an epic solo in a mid-air split kick couldn't be more breezy.
There are occasions where Francis has to perform on stage, either at a show or to impress an all-powerful (but musically picky) alien overlord, no biggie. This is where the music-making mechanic comes into play, tasking you with mimicking button combinations in a call and response style. It's essentially a musical Simon Says, but one that doesn't really change over the course of the story—you'll be doing the same things in the spectacular final performance as you were during the tutorial. It's the audiovisual feast that does all the heavy lifting.
Testing the player's ability to copy a pattern of flashing colours isn't really the point of The Artful Escape. Guitar shredding against a rich orchestral soundscape is so effortless and easy, anyone could do it. It's a heartfelt love letter to music, which isn't surprising since the game is being spearheaded by a literal rockstar, Johnny Galvatron, former head of rock group The Galvatrons. You can feel the love of music in every chord you trash. No guitar solo sounds the same, which is quite the feat in a five-hour game.
Joining Galvatron's epic guitar licks is an eclectic star-studded cast each playing their own cosmic weirdo. Jason Schwartzman voices a dead-pan floating brain in a jar, Mark Strong plays an intergalactic music producer, Francis' eccentric mentor and space guide is brought to life by Carl Weathers, and Lena Headly of Game of Thrones fame makes for a magnificent, if frightening, all-powerful cosmic entity. Each voice fits perfectly into the world, with each cast member's performance equally matching the energy of their characters' bonkers designs.
But under the blockbuster casting, dazzling worlds, and awesome guitar wailing is a genuinely sincere story. The Artful Escape's musical guitar mechanics never reach the heights of its showstopping visuals, but Francis' journey of self-discovery is universal—his just happens to be part of a spectacular, laser-powered light show that will leave your head spinning and ears ringing.