Review – The Artful Escape

The Artful Escape was announced a whopping four years ago during Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation. Four years! I can’t believe how long it took for the folks at Beethoven & Dinosaur and Annapurna Interactive (a publisher I still have largely mixed feelings towards in terms of their library) to deliver their musical opus. I’ve been eagerly waiting for this game ever since, even though I had no idea of how it would play or what it would be about, besides having a protagonist who wielded a holographic guitar, that is. What we ended up getting was something unexpected, but no less enjoyable.

The Artful Escape Guitar

Play Free Bird!!

In The Artful Escape, you play as Francis Vendetti, a folk singer. He is a talented musician, a kid who really knows how to play his instrument, but the fact he is the nephew of the world’s most celebrated folk singer, Bob Dylan Johnson Vendetti, forces him to constantly live in the shadow of his famous deceased relative. People expect him to follow in his footsteps, to be nothing more than the nephew of a famous guy, and not himself. Francis wants to shred solos, write rock operas, create his own “Space Oddity“, and so on. On the eve of a festival performance, he is contacted by a mysterious figure called Lightman, and embarks on a trippy-as-balls journey of self-discovery through the cosmos.

This is a story-based adventure at heart, but unlike other pretentious adventures backed by Annapurna, like What Remains of Edith Finch, Gone Home, and the gross 12 Minutes, The Artful Escape feels humble. It’s inviting. This is, above everything else, a journey of finding out who you are and what you want to do with your life. It speaks to anyone who has ever had an identity crisis, especially those around the age of twenty-five, those finally gaining their independence, but still unsure of who they are and what is their purpose in life. The developers at Beethoven & Dinosaur just so happened to mix such heartwarming message with a trippy sci-fi story, some of the best visuals and music in recent memory, and some sprinkles of platforming and rhythm-based gameplay to spice things up a notch.

The Artful Escape Graphics

I’d say it’s more of a King Crimson art cover, but I get what you’re saying.

At its core, there’s no denying: The Artful Escape is one of those “art games” that are more focused on their story and presentation than their gameplay. The difference between it and the rest of the pretentious crowd is that its gameplay, as simplistic as it is, enhances its presentation. Everything you do in terms of direct interactivity is tied to the game’s ultra-colorful and creative psychedelic imagery and Bowie/Queen styled music.

There are three main kinds of gameplay sections in The Artful Escape: dialogue-heavy pseudo-explorative walking sections, music-driven platforming gauntlets, and Simon Says rhythm challenges. The first sections sees you being tasked with either talking to a lot of NPCs or pressing context-sensitive buttons for Francis to deliver a few monologues about his hometown or his inner feelings. Nothing too exciting, these sections are exclusively meant to shove you with exposition.

The Artful Escape Duel

Give me one chance to rock your socks off…

Platforming sections reminded me a lot of the musical levels from Rayman Legends, albeit much easier and less focused on making you jump to the sound of a song, but actually encouraging you to solo it by holding down the X button. Walking around while soloing usually results in the environment reacting to your shredding, rewarding you with even more eye candy. Let’s not forget that the solos and songs being played during these sections are all original compositions and are all completely fantastic.

Finally, these rhythm-based sections act less like Guitar Hero and more like Simon Says. You’re not given a barrage of notes to play in succession. Instead, you’ll meet a character whose face will always feature five symbols that resemble the X, Y, B, LB and RB buttons. They will flash in succession, and you just need to follow the patterns in order to jam a solo with these characters, all while, once again, being rewarded with beautiful songs and gorgeous visual effects.


It’s all about the music, man…

The only problem I have with this emphasis on soloing is whenever the game gives you the opportunity to do some freestyle improvs with the scales at your disposal, usually during some autorun sections. I have nothing against these mini levels. In fact, I loved their inclusion, but the way characters are animated results in a slight amount of input delay whenever you press a note. That means that it’s actually quite hard to play your solo alongside the base melody, as well as being absolutely impossible to shred quickly. It’s not something that will bother most people, but some music buffs will feel a tiny bit disappointed with this setback.

Being a musical in game form, one would expect for The Artful Escape‘s soundtrack to be phenomenal, but that’s not the only good thing about its sound design. In true Annapurna fashion, the game is filled with performances by famous Hollywood actors, such as Lena Headey, Jason Schwartzman, Mark Strong, and even freaking Carl Weathers delivering one of his best performances in recent memory. The one who steals the show, however, is Teen Wolf‘s Michael Johnston, delivering a memorable performance as the daydreaming, but shy and insecure Francis Vendetti.


Sigh… anyway, here’s Wonderwall.

More than just a massive audiovisual trip, The Artful Escape also features a shockingly relatable story and sprinkles of rhythm-based and platforming gameplay that help develop its overall narrative with little effort. It might not exactly be a game for everyone, considering the fact it is absolutely devoid of any semblance of difficulty, and its themes are largely aimed towards music buffs and/or the Wes Anderson crowd, but it delivers its message so well, I can’t for the life of me criticise it whenever it tries to be a bit more pretentious than it should be. I would absolutely score it a “Bill & Ted air guitar riff out of ten” if I could.


Graphics: 10

A feast for the eyes like very few games out there have even dared to attempt. The entire game is basically a big psychedelic trip.

Gameplay: 8.5

All the gameplay revolves around improving the game’s overall audiovisual appeal, with minute platforming and rhythm-based sections. While they may not be challenging, they fit in perfectly within the story. Some of the rhythm sections featured a bit of input delay, impacting negatively on the quality of the music you’re composing.

Sound: 10

The Artful Escape is all about the music, man. Guitar solos and fantastic arrangements permeate the entire game. The voice acting is also sublime, with big names like Carl Weathers and Lena Headey delivering fantastic performances.

Fun Factor: 9.0

The Artful Escape is primarily a musical and visual trip, but it also features a shockingly well-written and relatable story, great characters, and rhythm and platforming sections that were legitimately more interesting than they had any right to be.

Final Verdict: 9.0

The Artful Escape is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC.

Reviewed on Xbox Series S.