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The Artful Escape review: The trip of a lifetime

(XO/PC) ***** Age: 12+

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REINVENTION beats at the heart of The Artful Escape, an arresting voyage into psychedelia and prog rock wrapped in a light gaming experience.

Created by a former rock star who transformed himself into a game designer, The Artful Escape tracks the coming-of-age story of a young musician who wants to shake off the shadow of his famous uncle. So with Bowie-like reinvention, Francis Vendetti embarks on an interstellar odyssey to metamorphose into a rock god.

What follows takes inspiration from the music of Pink Floyd, the soundscape of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the visual flair of a Python animation and the rhythm action of Guitar Hero. It teems with imagination, aided by a stellar voice cast that includes Lena Headey (Cersei in Game of Thrones), Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed in Rocky) and Mark Strong (Kingsman).

This is a game to relish more than it is to play. That’s not a criticism but your visual and aural cortexes will be engaged more than your thumbs. The journey plays out like the world’s easiest platformer, with Francis mostly running from left to right while shredding his guitar. The world responds energetically to his exuberant playing, with creatures and plants dancing to licks that would put Brian May, Joe Satriani and Roger Gilmour to shame.

Along the way, he meets a cast of kooky oddballs, from grizzled veteran rocker Lightman to the intimidating Stargordon (a sort of amorphous alien blob). He learns the value of showmanship and becoming who you want to be, sparring verbally with his fellow travellers as he leaps from one eye-popping dimension to the next.

While The Artful Escape is resolutely linear and impossible to fail (not even in the boss battle Guitar Hero sequences), it never does what you expect. In a small way, it shifts our expectations of what can games be. Now turn it up to 11 and prepare for the acid trip of your life.

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