A Rogue Escape Review | Your plan was simple: steal a giant, crawling mech, also known as a Nauticrawl, evade capture, and make a break for freedom. Find clues to unravel your whereabouts, but know – this is only the first of your many problems…
Developer: Spare Parts Oasis
Console Played On: Oculus Quest
Time Taken: 6 Hours +
Number Of Players: 1
Escape the Planet… Or Die (and Die, and Die) Trying
When trying to describe A Rogue Escape to friends and family, I settled on the following anecdote:
“You know when you start a new job and they load up some shiny new software on your computer and you’re like “Sure I know how to use this, how hard can it be?” and it turns out very hard indeed. You spend your first few weeks at the new job sweating at your desk pushing buttons on the software and hoping for the best.”
…Yeah, that’s kinda how A Rogue Escape went, and that’s exactly what the developer’s intended! You find yourself lost on a completely alien planet, and so in order to escape you take control of the Nauticrawl, a machine designed for traversing the foreign landscape. Except, you have no idea how it works. It’s built for an alien creature that looks nothing like you, and there’s an overwhelming amount of buttons and levels to push, dials to balance, and screens to keep an eye on. The game is trial and error. You will die, and you will die a lot. But heck, what do you expect? This is alien technology we’re dealing with and nobody is an expert at anything the first time they pick it up.
In some ways, it’s less of an escape room and more of an alien submarine simulator. On the other hand it’s the truest and most raw form of an escape room I’ve ever encountered. The developers have created a punishing and brilliant experience that would not be possible in real life. Like nothing else you’ll ever play.
The Evolution of A Rogue Escape
A Rogue Escape didn’t always start as a VR game however, the idea has gone through a lot of iterations in the past few years.
In September 2019, Spare Parts Oasis launched a PC game called Nauticrawl: 20,000 Atmospheres on Steam which was met with wide praise. Essentially, the concept was the same – pilot an alien Nauticrawl machine and escape from the inhospitable planet.
Last month in September 2021, Nauticrawl made it’s debut on iOS with another iteration of the puzzle game.
However, neither the PC nor iOS versions of the game are a direct port of one another. For sure, the idea and some of the puzzles are the same, but the games are different enough to give a whole new experience each time. The VR version in particular has been rebuilt from the ground up with a series of virtual, 3D environments to explore.
Mercilessly Difficult, Immensely Rewarding
So what exactly is A Rogue Escape? It’s an hour long escape room experience designed to challenge even the most veteran escapists! I say ‘an hour long’, then in truth I took around six hours to ‘complete the experience’, but this is mis-leading as each time you die you return to the beginning and must start again. From start, to finish, with skill and practise you’ll take no more than an hour… It’s the weeks (and months) of frustration learning the ropes and getting to that point that is at the core of A Rogue Escape.
Escape room players who are looking for pure puzzles may be slightly disappointed with A Rogue Escape. Put simply: the puzzle is figuring out what to do. If you enjoy this, you’ll be in your element, but if you prefer a little more signposting then the game may feel very frustrating.
One of the core gameplay loops is actually one of my favourite game mechanics ever, and I call it “plate spinning”. Some other games loosely in this genre include Don’t Feed the Monkeys, Papers, Please and Will Die Alone. Here, this takes the form of the sheer number of dials and meters you’ll need to keep an eye on. The visual clue of a dial slipping into red is followed by blaring alarms and, quite often, death. So as well as figuring out how to pilot the machine, players are also expected to keep a close eye on everything. One wrong move and it’s game over!
For sure, there are pros and cons with a game like this. On the one hand it’s realistic and tough like escape rooms typically aren’t. Your average escape room often contains irrelevant puzzles like “solve this cipher to give you a digit code to unlock a cupboard”. When was the last time you locked a cupboard shut with a 4 digit code, eh? A Rogue Escape’s puzzle experience is closer to what I’d actually expect a real alien submarine to be like. You never once need to break immersion, you’re just pushing and poking things and ‘solving’ the game without ever coming across anything like a traditional puzzle.
The downside is, it’s hard and I did struggle! I imagine a lot of people would not complete the game- and I only just managed it by spacing out my gameplay over weeks and months. This means it pitches at a more patient, forgiving, and enthusiast player – but that may not be a bad thing!
The Nauticrawl: A Virtual, Alien Space
A Rogue Escape uses Oculus’s roomscale settings to create a rather large, 3D space to play in. Quite literally, your living room is converted into an escape room, so you’ll need to be standing up and able to move freely around! Those levers and buttons aren’t going to push themselves.
Despite the large play area you’ll need, the experience is very claustrophobic. From the moment you don your headset you’ll be utterly immersed in the alien world, without a single porthole to look through. It’s anxiety-fuelling, sweaty, and oppressive. Everything beyond your Nauticrawl was left up to the imagination and I love that!
All you know is that you’re running for your life from aliens… But what do they look like? What did they do to you and your people? What even is this world?
I’m scoring it low on puzzles, but very high on immersion. In fact, so high we’ve decided to award A Rogue Escape our “I Believe” award for being outstandingly immersive. Every time I donned the headset on I was transported to this creepy, eerie and very tense world. I’d emerge 30 minutes later sweating, and occasionally shaking, doubting what was real and not. It’s so true to what a ‘real’ escape room should be, it almost goes beyond the genre entirely and for that we’re impressed!
Personally, I think the game might have been a little easier. Yes, yes, it turns out I am one of those people who prefers more signposting in my escape room experiences. But if you take a step back and take the game for what it actually is and not by the standards of what we’re used to, it’s clear it’s something special!