A teenage guitar prodigy sets out on a psychedelic journey to inspire his stage persona and confront the legacy of a dead folk legend. Starring voice performances by Michael Johnston, Caroline Kinley, Lena Headey, Jason Schwartzman, Mark Strong, and Carl Weathers.
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Reviewed on: PC (Ryzen 5 2600, RTX 2070 Super, 32GB DDR4)
Also available for: Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Cast: Michael Johnston, Caroline Kinley, Karl Weathers, Jason Schwartzman, Lena Headey, Mark Strong
Developer: Beethoven & Dinosaur
Creative Director: Johnny Galvatron
Technical Director: Sean Slevin
Programming Team: Justin Blackwell, Jack Knobel, Sean Slevin
Art Team: Arden Beckwith, Johnny Galvatron, Mikey McCusker, Tessa Monash, Harry Truman
Every so often, you can be watching a movie, reading a book, or in this case, playing a video game and have a moment of euphoria before you’ve even reached the credits. About an hour into The Artful Escape, I knew that it was something special, a musical odyssey like no other.
Just like the best albums, I’d encourage you to head into this without knowing anything other than it’s bloody fantastic, but if you’d like to know a bit more, please read on.
Francis Vendetti is a 17-yeard old kid with his family’s legacy riding heavy on his shoulders. His Uncle, Johnson Vendetti, is a folk music legend; he looks like and is talked about by the town like the great Bob Dylan. Francis’ family and hometown want him to use his musical talent to honour his Uncle, a man Francis had never met. As much as Francis may dress the part and attempt to stum the tunes, he isn’t a folk musician, and deep down, he has a much weirder, more outlandish music persona waiting to be unleashed.
When you start The Artful Escape, the first thing you see is Francis sitting on a bench overlooking his town, guitar in hand. A prompt to play “a ballad about the toil of a minder’s life” appears, and Francis shall attempt to play such a melancholy song. Like putting on a mask that doesn’t fit, the piece falls off flat. Standing up and moving to the cliff’s edge, a prompt to “shred a sci-fi guitar odyssey” appears, and a smirk rises across Francis’ face. As he finishes his guitar solo, a girl, Violetta, appears behind him, stating the obvious: “your look doesn’t match your sound.”
Later that night, as Francis is supposed to be getting a good night’s sleep before he’d be playing an honorary performance for his Uncle, a strange alien-like creature awakes him. It presents him with a David Bowie-inspired one-piece suit and a mystical guitar that, when strummed, brims life back into the town, setting off all the lights and creating fireworks in the distance. Suddenly Francis’ music is more than just sounds. The planets he travels to metaphorically as he zones out are also about to become a reality. Legendary rocker, Lightman, invites Francis to ride across the cosmos and play a one-of-a-kind concert in the regions beyond our known universe and the surrounding planets above our heads.
The Artful Escape is one part an ode to rock music — especially those with on-stage personas — another a moving piece about owning you who are, even amongst any detractors. Creative Director Johnny Galvatron uses his music career and attachment to icons like the Bowie mentioned above, among other glam-rock heroes, as inspiration for Francis’ musical journey that takes you through several planets and rocking out to impress godlike mythical creatures.
Arriving on The Cosmic Lung, Francis’ learns that he’s to be the supporting act for Lightman, but there’s no normal stage on this spacecraft. Instead, both Lightman and Francis’ shall be transported to another planet and play music across its surface before having a showdown with a celestial being to impress not only them but also those back watching live on the Cosmic Lung.
It’s not Francis’ ability to shred on the guitar that requires work during the game, and as such, most of the gameplay is relatively a breeze as not to hinder the experience and pacing. Simple platforming sequences showcase stunning locations with alien flora and fauna; exquisite backdrops come to life as you hold a button to have Francis’ stum his guitar and skyboxes that all feel like they’ve been pulled from a Jimmy Hendrix album cover.
When you come face-to-face with a creature you need to impress, you’ll enter a guitar sequence that plays like a typical rhythm game, except there’s no failure here. The creature will have five smartly designed icons on its face, and you’ll need to press the corresponding buttons correctly. However, there’s no timer here, you’re free to feel the music, and in fact, you’re encouraged to connect with the game as much as you can and make the performance your own. If you press the wrong one, no worries, it’ll just start that one sequence again.