When you first pick up Francis Vendetti’s acoustic guitar, you can tell you’re in store for something crazy. Approached by aliens to perform crazy cosmic rock concerts across the galaxy, The Artful Escape offers a visual feast of wild, cosmic insanity. Nervous about following in the footsteps of your uncle, a folk music icon, you take Francis on a journey of self-discovery into the vast unknown, as you embrace your inner rock god.
The story has a lot of heart and an important message to tell about being comfortable in one’s own skin, and it does so with a smile, as the game isn’t afraid to be funny. There are quite a few truly great jokes, many of which are aided by on-point performances. And in what is fast becoming an Annapurna staple, much of the cast comprises Hollywood veterans, including Jason Schwartzman, Mark Strong, Lena Headey, and a standout Carl Weathers.
In fact, the story stays pretty appealing all the way through its 4-5 hour runtime. The art direction is equally impressive, providing an unbelievable display of creativity. The sheer variety of creature designs once you get to space is staggering. And it should come as no surprise to hear that a game with a narrative focus on music has an exceptional soundtrack. The folk music, the ambient score, and the guitar shredding are all incredible and work surprisingly well in harmony with one another.
The Artful Escape falls somewhere between a walking simulator and traditional game. Apart from side-scrolling and light platforming elements, there are “combat” sequences where you have guitar duels with opponents that are ludicrously fun. Unfortunately, they don’t occur often enough. Across the entire game, you’ll barely get to do these segments a dozen times, and there’s not much offered to fill the void in their absence.
There are huge stretches in between these fights that will leave you wanting for something other than walking to the right. This is somewhat remedied by the “shred” button, where you can play your guitar as you walk everywhere, but fun as that may be, it’s ultimately not a sufficient replacement for proper gameplay.
The adventure does ultimately end up being a worthwhile one, with interesting characters, an incredible art style, and great music. But if there were more to the gameplay, the game – and its world – could have offered so much more.