I wouldn’t say that I Can’t Escape scared me as much as it induced panic in me. Confusion and disorientation, combined with a feeling of hopelessness, caused this; I wasn’t expecting it. Going into the game completely blind, so to speak, is the way to go, as I found out. So rather than spoiling it for yourself by reading on, I would suggest playing it right now, or as soon as you can.
“The game is fairly experimental, with a psychological undertone, and it was designed to defy players expectations.”
To give some outline of what the game is about, I’ll simply tell you that it’s a first person dungeon crawler, a grid-based one at that. At the start you’ll see an opening above you; that’s where you fell into this place, and as the title says, you can’t escape without venturing further in. That’s just about all I want to say here, but stay with me below if you want to know more.
If These Walls Could Speak
All around you are dark pixelated walls, grimy with moss, and further on round a corner lies a gate to which you don’t have the key. One of the walls contains a hole that you can peer through into the next room. Curiosity peaked, you’ll be eager to have a look around these dungeons, because the game starts out with the thrill of excitement that so many others do. The music at this point reflects the mood you’re more than likely feeling, but contains a subtle hint of something sinister. But you’ll not heed this warning and instead venture further around these walls, moving slowly as you do and looking out for any change up in the textures.
A little further on you’ll find that the dungeon begins to open up a little. Without a map, you’ll try to discover each area, remember the dead ends and the locked doors. Maybe you’ll think to yourself that with just a few more minutes you could have this area mapped out in a mental image…just a few more passages to poke your head around. A key shines on the ground – this must be what you need! Now you can unlock some of those locked doors and hopefully find a way out of here. One of the textures on the walls sticks out at you, and upon walking up to it and clicking, a secret room is revealed. Aren’t you brilliant at this?! And then you fall down a hole into a room below. Gosh darn it! You clutz. It’s a little darker down here and the music begins to reflect that. You hear something huge stomping around. You’re not alone, and whatever else is here doesn’t sound friendly or easy to deal with. Looking around a bit further, you find a ladder and head back up – phew!
“The levels are incredibly large and maze-like with no map to guide you. It wont take long before you have absolutely no clue where you are.”
So here’s the ‘joke’ on the part of the developer. And this is going into major spoiler territory now. Soon enough you’ll fall down another hole. And then another. You’ll not think too much of it because you probably could have avoided those if you kept your eyes open. And then it keeps happening, further down like a dungeon made of quicksand. You see ladders in the distance. Find more and more keys that prove to just be junk at this point. Ever darker, ever more frantic and the music and sounds pumps around to heighten this panic. The ghost that appeared so pathetic before now pushes you down further. An eye stares back at you from the reddening walls. And then you see that something bigger.
I Can’t Escape takes a little while to get going, but that initial slow pace is essential for pulling off the trick it does so well. You’re led to believe that the game is a slow-paced puzzler of sorts. You need to find the key, unlock the right doors and remember where you’ve been – players have been doing this for years. It’s easy to sink into, literally. Taking away all that you presumed and trusted about the game to then forcing you against your will to go further down away from your goal is a fantastic psychological twist of horror. It’s not scary, though it might be for some, but it’s frightening in how easily the game is able to strip away your comforts – those engrained gaming practices – and taunt you as you fall deeper and deeper.