The Artful Escape review: Tale of cosmic self actualization

This game captures an artist's intimate journey, but it's also just wild to look at.

Artful Escape Crazy Moth
(Image: © Windows Central)

"Follow your dreams" is such a boring platitude, but in the case of The Artful Escape, developed by Australian first-time studio Beethoven & Dinosaur and published by Annapurna Interactive, it's very real and sorely needed.

Few games elicit a specific kind of joy as The Artful Escape. The game allows the player to harken back to an earlier time — or even a present time — when following your dream felt doable, and the whole of the universe was in your grasp. In the case of most of us, we feel unburdened by the structures of society and our world. For Francis Vendetti, our musical protagonist, that last part is literal as he travels to the far reaches of the galaxy, playing music with gargantuan, otherworldly creatures and becoming the Spaceman he was always meant to be.

The Artful Escape isn't a complex game in terms of gameplay, but it makes up for that in some of the most jaw-dropping visuals I've seen in some time, a relatable story, and just a genuine sense of delight throughout its four-hour runtime.

The Artful Escape: What I liked

Artful Escape Francis

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
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CategoryThe Artful Escape
TitleThe Artful Escape
DeveloperBeethoven & Dinosaur
PublisherAnnapurna Interactive
GenreExperimental platformer
Minimum RequirementsWindows 7
Intel Core i3-540 | AMD FX-4350
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650, 1GB | AMD Radeon HD 7870, 2GB
Game Size7GB
Play Time4 hours
Launch Price$20

Francis Vendetti constantly lives in the shadow of his uncle Johnson Vendetti, a famous folk musician whose legacy is nearly solely responsible for keeping the small town of Calypso, Colo., alive. At the start of The Artful Escape, Francis is getting ready for his first show playing his uncle's best hits, and he's feeling the pressure. It's not until a floating alien wakes him up in the night and brings him along on a cosmic journey before his performance that everything changes.

The Artful Escape is a linear, narrative title that tells the relatively straightforward story of a young person trying to find himself while constantly being upstaged by a man he's never met. It's also about being a creative person and having to find your own voice without the threat of shame or judgment. Throughout his journey, Francis is constantly holding back on reaching his true potential as a galactic, epic rockstar. It's a point brought up by ultra-dimensional beings with multiple eyes tasked with being the gatekeepers on his path. Despite interacting with beings like the Glamourgonn or Stargordon, who are drenched in vibrant colors and a shining aura, the stakes are oddly grounded: Can Francis break out of his shell?

What gives the game its uniqueness is its setting. The game is heavily inspired by 1970's rock 'n' roll, specifically David Bowie's turn into Ziggy Stardust and the idea of the Spaceman alter ego (there are even many pieces of clothing you can choose later in the game that allow you to make your own version of Ziggy Stardust). The visuals also harken back to futuristic motifs often seen in the works of the Electric Light Orchestra or Jefferson Starship: bright UFOs that triumph over the deep blackness of space, inspirations from pulp sci-fi book covers, lots of lasers, and retro-futuristic architecture. While the story doesn't have a set time and place, the influences are evident and deeply tied to a specific tone.

Artful Escape Customization

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

This is why it all makes sense when Francis (or the Glorious Galvatron, as I named him later when you can customize his persona down to his outfit and makeup), slides and leaps over colorful landscapes, or when you launch into an epic electric guitar solo at the push of a button. I'll admit when I first encountered the "press X to play song" prompt, I was hesitant about how the game would depict the art of playing music. While it's still simple to rip into some epic chords while sliding down hills, the game also presents a rhythm mini-game that allows you to jam with the creatures you meet by repeating a series of light prompts, similar to a game of Simon. You don't feel like you're playing guitar, but you feel like you're interacting with the creatures you're paying for, like you're playing specifically for them. It's not challenging, but it is rewarding in a unique way.

The game is also hilarious, pulling upon Francis' awkwardness for good fish-out-of-water scenarios, but it also uses your expectations to pull out the rug and present you with mundane observations and digs. I can honestly say that watching a giant cosmic being talk about god playing pinball (and how pinball was created by the gods as the perfect game) was new for me.

Artful Escape Pinball

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Whether you connect with Francis will depend on how much you connect with his spiritual and physical journey as an artist coming into his own, but I feel like there's something there for all of us. Creative people always seem to have something holding them back, whether it's the fear of rejection, the shame of living in somebody else's shadow, the hesitancy around revealing a part of yourself, or just the sheer thought of tackling a large project causing you to put it off altogether. (I know imposter syndrome impacts many of us here at Windows Central and our sister sites.)

I adore games that tackle these issues in many cases, but The Artful Escape feels different — at the very least, more hopeful. We don't all have the privilege of going on galactic journeys with an all-star cast that features the likes of Carl Weathers or Lena Headey, but we can put ourselves out there in small ways, and create the things we want to create. The game ends on a positive note where Francis can become who he wants to be without shame, and that feels important to witness, regardless of whether you're an artist or not.

The Artful Escape: What I didn't like

Artful Escape Gameplay

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

There's not much I can say in this section. There are things about The Artful Escape that might be off-putting to some players. For example, it's short (only four hours long, and that's pushing it), and its controls are simple. I fell off some of the platforming sections a couple of times and messed up some of the music combinations, but the game is forgiving and either puts you back in immediately where you messed up or allows you to try again. I know of a few players who might skip this on the basis that interactivity, while important for showing off the power of music, is toned down.

However, I don't think any of this is to the detriment of the game. It's exactly as long as it needs to be, for one, with Francis engaging in several impactful performances that extend his legacy in the cosmos. Also, the fact that the game is forgiving is in its favor. Like Francis, we shouldn't be punished for hopping into something new and messing up. We should be able to pick the guitar back up and try again until we get it right.

The Artful Escape isn't very "game heavy," but that allows the text and message to shine even brighter. You can spend more time focusing on the visuals instead.

The Artful Escape: Should you buy?

Artful Escape Environment

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I think a lot about what it means to be a creator, and I'm sure many people do, too. The Artful Escape is a game for the people who might be too scared to put themselves out there or might feel shame about exposing their true voice. It's a gorgeous, dizzying journey through colorful, futuristic visuals and an electrifying soundtrack. It makes you want to pick up that old David Bowie album, put on makeup, and just rock out.

The Artful Escape has been in the works since around 2015, and the effort shows. The game is precise in what it wants to portray and doesn't overstay its welcome. It tells a contained story about one guy, his famous uncle, and the whole of the cosmos, and does it well. It's also a story about the power of music, the art of creating, and the journey to becoming your true self. You can take what you want from it, make it one of your best comfort games if you want, but at the very least, it's a cool game to look at. It'll look great as one of the best Xbox games joining Xbox Game Pass this month.

The Artful Escape is out on Sept. 9, 2021, on PC, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One. It's also available through Xbox Game Pass.

Update Sept. 8, 2021: Removed mention of the game coming to iOS.

Carli Velocci
Gaming Lead, Copy Chief

Carli is the Gaming Editor and Copy Chief across Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. Her last name also will remind you of a dinosaur. Follow her on Twitter or email her at