Review: The Don’t Escape series
A few months ago, I took a look at the Deep Sleep trilogy produced years ago by a talented indie developer known as scriptwelder. Each of these games wrings as much atmosphere as possible out of their simple pixel graphics and point-and-click mechanics, managing to top some full releases in how tense and engrossing they can be. Luckily scriptwelder branched out from those titles to another series that shows an ever greater level of creativity. The Don’t Escape series features a unique mix of adventure and management mechanics, as well as a clever inversion of several common horror scenarios. Each is a remarkable game in its own right, and taken together they constitute a fresh approach to a broad and oft-visited genre.
As the name implies, the Don’t Escape games present the player with a horrific scenario that they should NOT escape from. Instead, you are challenged to work out the mechanics of your situation and prepare a response, whether it be locking yourself in a cabin or decontaminating your spaceship. This is done through traditional point-and-click mechanics, scouring scenes for items that can be combined and used to achieve your perceived goals. The big difference here is that there’s no clear conclusion to what you’re doing. In all three games you can trigger the ending at any time, and the result you get is determined by how much of the solutions you puzzled out yourself. There are perfect solutions to all of them but as we’ll discuss, that’s hardly the entire story to any of them.
The original Don’t Escape faces you with a unique conundrum, being a werewolf on the day of the full moon. Being a responsible sort you want to minimize the carnage you cause during your transformation, so you’ve retreated to a remote cottage in the countryside. Here you’ll find an assortment of resources to help keep your bestial side locked in and occupied to prevent any unintended casualties. Your options include everything from closing and locking the door to tying yourself up with rope to producing drugged meat to soothe you in were-form.
Thanks to the charming graphics, morose tone, and singular premise, this title manages to be surprisingly engrossing despite playing out over just half a dozen scenes. Every nook and cranny of the cottage hides something that can help you control your inner beast, some of it requiring some pretty exacting pixel hunting. It’ll take you a couple tries to get everything right, especially with how detailed things like the door and window interactions are, but the ending helps immensely with catching your mistakes. The final screen walks you through everything your were-self does, noting when an obstruction could have slowed you down but didn’t. It’s worth working out the perfect ending for that peace of mind knowing that you saved a nearby village from yourself, but solving the many hidden and logical puzzles is a pretty solid reward on its own, too.
Don’t Escape 2 has the most conventional premise of the series, but also the most open-ended gameplay. The zombie apocalypse happened two weeks ago, and the brain-munchers have caught up to you and your buddy Bill. The horde will descend upon you in just 8 hours, but you’ve found a solid little house to make your last stand. It’ll take plenty of work to make the place defensible, of course, but that will take time and help to do. That’s what set’s this one apart from the rest of the trilogy, the emphasis on planning and time management. Every significant action in Don’t Escape 2 takes time, and performing the right actions and the right times is the only way to get you and your friends through the night alive.
That’s right, friends. Aside from the house and its immediate surroundings, there are four locations you can travel to in search of additional supplies and fortifications. You can find survivors in those areas who will join you if you help them out, and their aid can massively cut down on the time required to erect defenses. You can also turn up things like a shopping cart and a car to help you get around more efficiently, but there’s always a trade-off. Don’t Escape 2 gives you multiple uses for each item you find, but not all of them will lead to the best ending. There’s a lot of problem-solving to do here that’s incredibly engrossing, and even if you suss out the good ending there are achievements for surviving in other ways, like never using the gun or never teaming up with other survivors.
Compared to its predecessors, Don’t Escape 3 is easily the most story-driven. You awaken in the airlock of your ship with no idea how you got there, and only 30 seconds to stop it from ejecting you into hard vacuum. If you survive that little deathtrap you’ll be faced with the mystery of what happened on your ship to make everyone else so terribly dead. The puzzles this time are more creative and involved, challenging you to work out chemical formulas and piece together events from security footage to crack the case. The ending is more complex as well, offering several very different conclusions based on how much you understood about what happened and how you handled it. And I have to give a nod to the expert atmosphere, which is far more dreadful than that in the previous games thanks to some amazing scenes and a very effective sinister presence on the ship.
The Don’t Escape games are honestly some of my all-time favorite horror adventures, despite their limited scope. Each one brings something new to the table, something that more traditional point-and-clicks just don’t seem to have touched on. The inversion of traditional scenarios and the open-ended management elements make these something special, and the expert atmosphere and presentation further elevate that to something that cannot be missed. I’m also pleased to see the series will be continuing sometime this year, and I can hardly wait to see what new twists on the fresh formula are in store. For now though, fans of creepy adventures would be hopelessly remiss to leave these solid adventures unplayed.