Joe Hill – Stephen King’s son – has inherited a great deal of his dad’s writing talent. And though his books and stories have their own voice and identity and would be unlikely to be mistaken for his father’s, it is not inaccurate to say that he has gone into the family business. Joe Hill writes horror and fantasy fiction, and he’s damn good at it. But what if Joe Hill had inherited the talent, but decided that he wanted to write kid’s books, or romance novels? How much does the expectation to work within the genre of a successful predecessor pressure following generations to follow suit?
I chose Joe Hill as my example because he is an obvious success, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable picking on him. But when a parent – or uncle, in the case of The Artful Escape – is wildly successful, and a kid decides that they too want to follow those same career paths, how does the inescapable gravity of the elder change the trajectory of the young? And what must it be like to try to break free from that black hole of fame, and become your own celestial body? There are few people that have that experience in terms of fame and fortune, but the pressure to go into the family business is as old as time, whether that business is guitar playing or brick laying.
It is rare that I get the chance to play games simply for pleasure, but after I watched a few minutes of Games N Moorer’s recent playthrough, I knew I had to take a swipe at The Artful Escape (frankly, I should have known just from the fact that The Artful Escape is published by Annapurna Interactive – the publisher with the best taste in the business). The Artful Escape absolutely bursts with color, sound, and humor. I was at once taken with the kaleidoscope of imagery I saw, so I dipped over to Game Pass and clicked the download button.
Playing for myself, I was immediately surprised at how taken I was with the story of Francis Vendetti – the nephew of renowned folk singer Johnson Vendetti. On the 20th anniversary of the release of Johnson’s breakthrough album, the locals in Johnson’s hometown have booked Francis to play a tribute concert for the tourists flooding into the town. But of course, Francis doesn’t really want to play folk music. He wants to shred.
One thing leads to another. A mysterious woman appears and behaves strangely with Francis, followed by an alien (cool design on this guy – he seems to have kidneys for eyes) who straight up abducts Francis into space. Once there, Francis meets Lightman, a legendary galactic guitar player (Carl Weathers). Lightman tells Francis that he has an important gig coming up, and he somehow detected Francis’ latent talent. Together, they launch out into the universe on a journey to unlock Francis’ true identity as a rock god, play the greatest show of all time, and still make it back in time for the tribute concert.
There is no point in further describing the story, which falls somewhere between Heavy Metal and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Francis is bounced from planet to planet, playing a variety of shows while he slowly morphs into the galactic stardust emperor of rock that he was always meant to be. The story makes about as much sense as a concept album – when means that you have to read between the lines quite a bit – but it also reveals surprising heart while it unfolds its tale of self-discovery and confidence.
But the main draws in The Artful Escape are the sound and visuals. I played on PC with the settings cranked all the way to 11, and a fantastic headset bolted firmly to my ears. To call The Artful Escape a feast for the senses is an understatement. The visuals in this game left me absolutely gob smacked.
Francis spends a lot of time running from left to right through different environments, sliding down hills and leaping high into the air while jamming out chords on his trusty guitar. Some might feel that these gameplay-light sections go on for too long, but to me, they were just an excuse to bathe the player in an endless array of color and light, with one insanely imaginative landscape coming to life after another. You don’t have to hold down the “play guitar” button as you run, but you would have to be a soulless husk to chose not to, as the results of Francis’ godly jams unlock amazing sights as he passes. Think Fantastic Planet meets Jodorowsky’s Dune, and you get the picture.
The music itself is all chords and sustained single notes, somehow still managing to sound impressive in its rousing simplicity. When Francis plays a show, or enters into a guitar battle, the gameplay turns into a simple game of Follow the Leader, with Francis following lit prompts on the controller in a simple game of rock and roll Simon. There is nothing here that is overly difficult, and failing does nothing but win Francis another try. Much like an artist wants patrons to view every painting on display at a gallery, The Artful Escape wants the player to see the journey through to the end.
The Artful Escape is a short but sweet wonder of a game, a swirling tornado of color and sound, liberally sprinkled with absurdist humor. Some of the lines in the game were so surprising that they elicited a real-world laugh, which is rare for me. One particular set-up, with Francis being instructed not to speak to a certain creature because it is an “ordeal for humans” paid off so well that I couldn’t stop giggling at it.
But as fanciful as The Artful Escape is, it never loses sight of the inner conflict that Francis is suffering through – the need to strike out on his own versus his perceived obligations to people’s expectations. The presence of Johnson Vendetti is like a brick tied around Francis’ neck, dragging him down into the abyss of folk music purgatory. Watching Francis learn to break free from that weight and soar on the wings of his own talent is the heart and soul of The Artful Escape. Combining that story with the cascading collage of color and light through which it is told provides the player with a joyous experience – something rare in videogames indeed.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Stadia, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, and a super sweet gaming PC built by Joh Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.View Profile