“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
The classification of scary or unsettling largely stems from individual interpretation. Sure, we have a predetermined fear of the dark and things unknown, but true terror is cultivated based on our own personal beliefs and experiences (i.e., I’m more fearful of bees than I am clowns because I’m not allergic to the latter). While some videogames cater to personal fears or attempt to bank on instinctual anxiety, others miss the mark completely, failing so terribly that the thought of bankruptcy is the only real source of terror. I Can’t Escape: Darkness, Fancy Fish Games’ spiritual successor to I Can’t Escape, throws whatever it can think of against the wall to see if something sticks. Unfortunately, the only thing I’m afraid of is the amount of time I wasted playing.
Set in the ruins of what looks like an ancient Mayan temple, I Can’t Escape: Darkness pits players against all manner of beast and booby trap as they attempt to, well, escape.The extent of the game’s plot is completely summarized in the title, and it rarely gets deeper than that. A mysterious eye embedded in the walls of each level passes out murky bits of wisdom and encouragement, but the writing feels incongruous – more Goosebumps than The Ruins – and in the same paragraph I’m told I cannot escape but I should go ahead and try anyway.
While the lack of motivation or involvement in the story was annoying, the controls proved even worse. Movement is set on a grid, and each step or turn takes the greater part of a couple seconds to execute. Traversing each map felt as cumbersome as rearranging a tile puzzle, and the combat that ensued whenever I ran into a spooky rodent or bundle of vines was as clunky as two washing machines making love on a permanent-press setting. The game offers controller support, but again this is undercut by the fact that you never have the chance to move more than a couple feet at a time, and the limited number of things you can actually do – throwing stones, holding flashlights, picking mushrooms – shines light on the fact that you could probably play with one hand.
One of Fancy Fish Games’ big boasts with I Can’t Escape: Darkness is the fact that it offers endless replayability based on the randomization of levels that occurs every time the player dies. While it’s true that this definitively changes the steps a player has to take to find the exit (or death), the contents of each new configuration vary by little more than a couple degrees. It doesn’t matter how often you change the order of rooms around; if there’s barely anything in them to start, it will always look the same no matter which way you slice it.
The game’s other crafty (and I use this word lightly) feature is the player’s integrated ability to Tweet out their success or failures to all their friends. This is literally nothing more than free advertising for Fancy Fish, and I guarantee none of your followers want to see more than one of those Tweets pop up on their newsfeed. This is technology ten years too late, and anyone who continually posts progress reports for a game no one wants to keep playing is sure to be put on mute.
The game’s low-res aesthetic (and use of the word ‘sphincter’) is probably the only redeemable factor here. The generally minimal use of color makes things like bloody walls or green ghosts stick out nicely, and the enemy sprite’s various designs are actually very well drawn. Each level’s lighting does the ‘explore’ factor justice, as some rooms are so dark as to require you to cover every bit of floor space just to see what’s directly in front of you. The sound effects are a bit on the underdeveloped side, but they piece together flawlessly with the low-poly looks.