I Can’t Escape: Darkness from Fancy Fish games was developed with one goal in mind; to excite and terrify players. Following up from the 2013 release I Can’t Escape this new game looks to build on the original to enhance while still keeping the spirit of the original. This new atmospheric horror adventure throws you into a deep dark pit filled with horrific nightmares and challenges you to escape.
So let’s start with the major question: is it scary? You’ll find no jump scares here, or fast paced survival action. Instead this games focus is to create a good, tense atmosphere. Pushing the slow burning approach to horror it really helps to ramp up the suspense and to get the blood pumping. You traverse the temple’s corridors at a snails pace, only being able to turn in right angles when stationary (so no peeking around corners) and then there’s the sound keys that always have you question if somethings behind you. But then when you’re actually encouraged by in game messages to sit in the dark with headphones on that’s enough to put you on edge before you’ve even started.
Your main objective in this indie horror title is to escape from the bleak pit of hell you find yourself in. And that’s pretty much it. You’re dropped, quite literally, straight into a crumbling temple with the door to freedom ahead of you firmly sealed shut. Armed with nothing more than a torch and a stick you’ll need to explore the ruins around you for a key to the exit. Beyond that you’re not given any real direction of what to do or what criteria needs to be met before you can get hold of the key. You’re given some advice from some mysterious entity but it’s far too vague and does very little to motivate players to keep pushing on.
The dungeon you find yourself traversing is made up of just 5 floors but they’re procedurally generated ensuring that no two playthroughs are ever the same. While that’s the general idea the changes are mostly minor. Each floor will always have the same key item, and puzzle to unlock the door, it’s that paths to them that differ so you’ll just need to explore different routes to find them. Beyond that there’s not a lot else just the randomly placed enemies and wall eyes. This isn’t that bad but the map it setup in a grid and you can only advance one space at a time. Moving at this speed certainly builds up suspense, particularly when you encounter an enemy, but in time this slow drawn-out pace just becomes tiresome. Each attempt can take anything from thirty minutes to two hours and when you’re re-exploring a floor for the seventh time hobbling at such a slow speed it saps your enjoyment and drags down the scare factor when you know what to expect.
Controllers are supported but whether you choose to use this or a keyboard controls may confuse players early on. There was a tutorial on the menu to explain the controls but movement initially felt awkward to use as you had to rely on your triggers to turn (Q and E if you opted for the keyboard) rather than the right stick (mouse). Items such as stones, broken bottles and a torch can be then be assigned to your left or right hand (left and right bumpers or f and space), so that you could dual wield a weapon and a light source. Unfortunately after a while you realise that because all movement is limited to one action at a time you could effectively just navigate the dungeons with one hand. Then there’s the combat which is so dull it’s irritating as all you do is mash the attack key faster than your opponent’s swipes. That is when you manage to catch up with enemies, even when you take a swipe at them half aren’t bothered and will just proceed on their merry way.
I Can’t Escape: Darkness most unusual feature actually comes into play once you’re dead. Once you’ve succumbed to the darkness you’re greeted with a breakdown of your attempt including your total number of steps, time taken and the number of keys you managed to procure. To finish it off there’s always a statement of how you died, most memorable from my playthrough were “I was killed by an animated cluster of vines” and “I was killed by a living wall”. I’m still trying to work out what exactly happened with the latter. Once you’re finished moaning about whatever killed you you’re free to post your progress on twitter to let your followers know how well or badly you’re doing, while challenging them to do better. But really it just feels like it was nailed on as an extra to make up for the lack of story and motivation.
The main takeaway from this game has got to come down to the 2D pixel artwork. Just take a look at the bloodied and mushroom infested corpses that guard each floors treasure as a prime example. Environments are simple yet effective, the blood soaked walls for example stand out nicely. This is particularly good in later levels when lighting plays a greater role with some of the floors being completely enveloped in darkness. The sound however is a bit mixed as it suits the art style well and does a very good job conveying a tense atmosphere, but there’s just a few audio cues that sadly let it down.
I Can’t Escape: Darkness certainly does well to create a tense atmosphere with some great pleasing visuals. Unfortunately that doesn’t cover up this games flaws. Combat is slow and irritating, exploration becomes tiresome after several attempts and there’s never any real motivation to keep players going. This game just seems to be more style over substance.
This review is based off a review code of I Can’t Escape: Darkness provided by STEAKSTEAK.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.