Escape Plan preview: More than a touch of disappointment

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Escape Plan preview: More than a touch of disappointment
[Ed. note: Fun Bits address some of our issues with controls, as you can see in this interview.]

Can I tell you how excited I was to check out Escape Plan? 'Cause I was, like, really excited. It had potential game of the show written all over it, with its black-and-white aesthetic, quirky main characters, and bold showcasing of the PlayStation Vita's many control inputs. And after sitting through a presentation at Gamescom, I was promised hands-on the next day. Ooh, goody!

My excitement, however, was immediately rattled after putting just one finger on the game. I was trying to wake up Lil, the thinner of the game's main two characters and introductory plaything, but pushing on the screen to wake her initially didn't do much. After mashing my finger repeatedly against the Vita's touchscreen, Lil finally woke up. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of my problems.%Gallery-130793%Escape Plan isn't especially unique because of the characters or the art style or the music, but because of its sole use of the Vita's touch components (back and front), eschewing both analog sticks and the face buttons (shoulder buttons jump between characters). However, as I had worried during the presentation the day before, oftentimes one of the characters needs to do something precise or quickly, and the touch pads immediately fail. Which is to say if they fail even once, they've completely failed. As I spent more time with Escape Plan, my interest went from sky high, to middling, to utter frustration.

The goal of Escape Plan, unsurprisingly, is to escape. Each room is based around that specific challenge -- escape without dying in one of many comical ways. Both of the game's main characters, Lil and Laarg, are controlled by swipes. You swipe left or right to move one or both in that direction, and you tap them to stop. Laarg also has the ability to do a ground stomp (swipe from up to down) and to rush through some walls (swipe quickly from left to right), while Lil can be inflated at various helium stations. While inflated, Lil can be directed one way or the other with the Vita's tilt sensor, and pinched (between the front and rear touchpads) for propulsion.

In fact, I didn't finish the demo because it was nigh impossible to even follow the characters' actions. Even when you're just controlling one of the little black leotard-laden fellows, there's no easy way to simply follow their actions. Two fingers dragged across the screen will move the camera, a la Apple's laptop touchpads, but this becomes quickly cumbersome when trying to efficiently jump around the screen. Moreover, after seeing one of the two (or both) in motion, it's difficult to both stop them and try to desperately keep up with the lazy camera.

Just two stages in and I was already dying many, many times for reasons that felt entirely unfair. I would accidentally knock various items around in the game simply because I was holding the Vita and my fingertips or knuckles would occasionally brush against the rear touchpad. It constantly felt like I was fighting with the frustrating controls to simply get anything done. A nearby PR rep lazily brushed off the issue as a measure of using a prototype Vita versus a retail unit, though other touch-based games for Vita that I've played didn't share similar issues.

I was truly disappointed by Escape Plan. Before I played it, I thought Fun Bits' Vita game might be a system seller for me (alongside the actually wonderful Sound Shapes). Now I'm wondering if the game was simply shown too soon, or if it'll ever live up to that first impression.
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