Around an hour into The Artful Escape, we were absolutely in awe of what was on display. It was an assault on the sense, both visually and through its audio, absolutely engrossing us in its musical odyssey. It was a moment that was perhaps our favourite of the entire year, perfectly encapsulating the reason why we play games. Annapurna Interactive's latest published effort is one of the most unique adventures you'll go on all year, despite its shortcomings.
The story sees you in the role of Francis Vendetti, a folk singer who is trapped under the shadow of his late uncle, someone who was considered a musical legend. In all honesty, Francis isn't interested in performing folk music, but instead has a love for sci-fi and the strange sounds that accompany it. What ensues is a magical, cosmic journey across the galaxy as he discovers himself and attempts to step out of the shadow that everyone has cast over him.
It's a beautifully told narrative, one that plucks the heartstrings and is easily relatable towards. It's humorously told, with likeable, strange characters that you meet across the cosmos. It's further enhanced with stellar vocal work from the likes of Lena Headey and Mark Strong. While it doesn't necessarily land every beat and loses some momentum occasionally, it reaches some of the highest highs we've seen in a game all year.
The Artful Escape is less a game and more of an experience. At times it feels like a music video that's come to life, and honestly, it works. Our favourite moments, which we won't spoil, involved no dialogue and instead allowed the music to tell the story. There's a few, what we consider, setpieces, which throw absolutely everything at you with loud, orchestral music and stunning visuals that you're jaw will drop with what's on display. It's also perhaps the prettiest game we've ever played.
Where The Artful Escape falls short is its lack of providing anything truly engaging for the player to do. While we absolutely loved the experience as a whole, we did come away hoping for a bit more in terms of its gameplay. Outside of talking to people, walking around and doing a few jumps, there's not much to it. You compete in music battles against enemies, but all this comes down to is copying the button prompts on the screen. With some more engaging gameplay beats, The Artful Escape really could have been something special, but it just falls short.
It's also worth mentioning there are some substantial performance issues. The frame rate dropped considerably fairly often, pulling us out of its gorgeous world. There were also a few occasions where dialogue on the screen was not voiced, which felt very odd. However, these issues aside, The Artful Escape is absolutely an adventure worth taking. It contains some magical moments, an engaging narrative and the best soundtrack in a game all year. It doesn't always hit the mark, but when it does, it smashes it out of the park.