“The Grid. A digital frontier.” Sorry, couldn’t help but make the Tron: Legacy reference as those two sentences always popped into my head the moment I’d boot this game up. Indie games have been quite the sensation this generation and for good reason. Indies have really helped established some originality in exhausted genres or with fresh new takes on simple gameplay. A prime example is developer Nnooo’s latest release for the PS Vita, escapeVektor. The game has a simple appeal to it, but does it continue the indie trend of standout titles that’s worth your time?
EscapeVektor is an interesting game. You’ll start off by being greeted from a mysterious character who soon reveals himself as Vektor. Apparently, he’s stuck in a CPU and is finding a means out before viruses hunt him down and kill him. However, Vektor has no memory as to why he’s there or what he was programmed to do. Breaking the fourth wall, Vektor speaks to you, the player, to help him escape. As you progress through the game, Vektor begins to remember bits of memories that makes him question his existence. Surprisingly, the story is pretty engaging, making you want to advance as much as possible to see where the plot goes next. The game will take place across 25 zones, 18 of which are story-based. Each zone will contain 4-6 nodes to complete before advancing to the next one.
The gameplay in escapeVektor is simple, yet complex enough to keep your interest. Controlling Vektor, you’ll scale along vector grids and try to border up cells entirely to reveal the exit of a node. It has a “Pac-Man” style gameplay to it where the enemies are coming after you in the area and instead of eating pellets, you’re changing the color of the grid. Once the cells are bordered, the Patrols will be on high alert as the exit opens. Occasionally, an exit will open but there will be more cells to border up that appear. Bordering up these cells as well will unlock a secret exit that opens up a portal to Bonus Zones, which can sometimes serve as a shortcut to other zones. The game starts off simple enough, with only basic types of enemies known as Patrols scouring the cells in specific movements. Colliding into them will kill Vektor instantly, so you’ll have to do your best to avoid them while bordering cells. As you advance, the CPU gets more aggressive and security tightens dramatically. Enhanced Patrols known as Hunters and Interceptors will hunt you down at much faster speeds and follow you based on your movements. Cells will then contain barriers that require a switch to activate so that you can continue to border it. Some switches allow a barrier to be temporarily deactivated so you’ll have to try to boost your way through it as fast as possible before it reactivates. Colliding into the barrier will immediately end Vektor. However, you won’t be the only one who can flip these switches, as your enemies that pass through them can also activate/deactivate it. If barriers weren’t enough to obstruct your path, there will be sentry turrets positioned in areas that force you to time your traversal safely. The camera does a pretty decent job of following the action but you’ll be holding down the R button more than anything so that you can zoom it out a bit and get a better view of the area. Luckily, if you activate the gyroscope feature, you can tilt your PS Vita to angle the camera in specific directions. This actually came in handy quite often.
Vektor will face many difficult obstacles in the process of his escape but thankfully, can upgrade his version by earning specific medals (bronze, silver, gold and platinum) in each node. Medals are determined based on your time and score for that node, which are determined by a variety of factors when you finish a node. Each time you achieve points to get to a full version, Vektor will either unlock a new ability or an enhancement to a specific one. You’ll start off without any defenses or abilities to utilize, but shortly after, will unlock a variety of them. You’ll start off by unlocking Detonate, which triggers a bomb to take out any enemies nearby. Soon after you’ll unlock Boost, Super Boost and Boostenate. Boost and Super Boost will utilize a boost meter while Detonate will use pips. Boostenate will allow Vektor to boost at high-speed and can destroy any enemy within his path. This will not only need your boost meter but also your pips. You’ll gradually fill up your boost meter as you progress along the uncolored grid lines and earn pips by bordering up cells. As you upgrade Vektor’s version, all of these abilities will get a little better with extended blast radius, faster speeds, and more boost meter and pips.
Before you start a level, you’ll see a brief layout of the node, leaderboards for the level, and the option to activate a “Wildcard”. Wildcards allow you to double the score in that particular node, but there’s a catch. Should you die, you’ll get nothing and lose the card for good. However, you’ll earn a good amount of these where it never became an issue. A neat feature is that each time you return to the game within 24 hours, Vektor will say he was able to hack the CPU and earn you a few more Wildcards. Nnooo also incorporated “near” support to earn even more Wildcards.
While escapeVektor is an entertaining game, it can be an immensely infuriating one as well…and in a very unfair manner at times. Naturally, as you progress through the game, the nodes will become much more difficult to escape. However, with the amount of Patrols, Locusts, Hunters, Interceptors and Munchers that flood the screen, it will become very overwhelming to find a means of escape. There are alerting poles placed throughout the levels that flash red if an enemy spots you, your timer depletes entirely, or when you border every cell and attempt to reach the exit. The problem with this is that the flashing red alarms can occasionally obstruct the vision of the path you’re on at times. This can result in an unnecessary death from an enemy within the area that you couldn’t spot in time because of a flashing red ring overlapping your path. The enemy respawn locations can also be downright unfair. You can use Detonate to trigger bombs and destroy Patrols, but should you be right on, or next to, their respawn location, get ready to curse at the screen as you’re immediately taken out within a split second and forced to repeat the level. It actually gives you little to no chance to react in time, resulting in many cheap deaths. While the stages can range from 30 seconds to a few minutes, it’s the lengthier levels where this issue becomes more evident. Also, when using Boostenate, you won’t have much of an indication as to when it’s about to run out. Sure there’s the boost meter and pips that show how much you can use, but there’s really no visual or audio cue to let you know if it’s about to shut off on you.
Visually, escapeVektor is meant to look basic but is very effective to see in action. The game runs incredibly smooth, with zero slowdown no matter how much is happening on-screen. However, thanks to the Vita’s OLED screen, the colors in the game really pop out and make it a delight on the eyes. The game’s soundtrack sounds like an old-school 8-bit title while also infusing a bit more modern style to it. It’s very catchy and really nails the atmosphere of the game. Sound effects aren’t anything to write home about but what’s there more than gets the job done. Overall, the visuals and audio are pretty well done.
EscapeVektor is a very entertaining game most of the time, with a few issues that hurt it a bit. The game can get incredibly difficult at times. While you may walk away from it due to frustration, you’ll also find yourself coming back to it as well. Issues aside, those looking for a unique game to play on-the-go will want to look into downloading escapeVektor on their Vita for the asking price of $9.99 ($7.99 for PS Plus members at this time). It takes a simple game design and evolves it into much more, providing an interesting story, vibrant visuals, catchy soundtrack and engaging gameplay.
Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!
A special thank you to Nnooo for providing us the review copy for “escapeVektor”!