I've met rocks smarter than these survivors...
If game design had rules etched on a tablet, and if that tablet was placed on top of a high, high mountain, and if in those rules it said sequels had to avoid repeating the same mistakes as their predecessors, then Taito better starting looking for some rope and hiking shoes. Because Exit 2 is practically the same as the original.
[image1]Exit 2 first came out on the PSP in Europe and Japan last year, but it was completely shut off from the rest of the world. The version out on Xbox Live Arcade is a chance for players outside of those regions to catch up with what Mr. ESC has been doing. Mr. ESC, for those uninitiated, is a professional escape artist, who lends his talents to aid victims of all sorts of disasters, natural or man-made.
The premise to the game is cemented on saving victims in 2D panel levels, involving lots of platforming, puzzle-solving and trial-and-error. Loads and loads of trial and error. This gameplay style was in the first Exit, and it has been carbon-copied into Exit 2. Both games seem to have been born from a cross between Tomb Raider and the original 1989 Prince of Persia - grid-based, slow-moving, precision jumps, with very little room for error. This style of gaming requires lots of patience; out-of-the-box thinking are rewarded with success, while more erratic and rash-playing is doomed to end on a Game Over screen.
Adding to the overall difficulty of planning escape routes through various types of obstacles - like electrified floors, earthquake-weakened structures, and collapsed rubble - is the greatest bane of video games that depend on non-playable characters: very, very bad artificial intelligence. The A.I was already horrible in the original Exit, and it seems to be even worse in this sequel.
[image2]By using a simple command mapped to one of the controller's bumpers, you can tell rescued civilians to stay put or follow you, but they tend to get lost rather often. Getting lost wouldn't be much of a problem - since hey, they're in dangerous environments and so are understandably nervous and scared - but a lot of times this leads to easily avoidable situations that cause a compulsory reset. In one situation, an NPC follows Mr. Esc as he climbs a set of stairs - if this NPC is off even a few footsteps behind, once Mr. Esc ascends or descends a floor, the NPC will lose track of where he or she is going, making baby-sitting a necessity instead of just a reaction of the carefully paranoid. There's no way around it, since there is no in-level save system.
In addition to the brain-dead civilians, Taito kept the original's whining voice samples intact. Now, a survivor who hasn't been saved will understandably scream for help. The problem comes when these screams are always the same line of dialogue, which becomes unnerving quite quickly, even quicker if there is more than one survivor yet to be found. This annoyance, however, doesn't end when they're finally rescued. Oh no, that's when things get ugly. When given orders, the NPCs utter the same lines with every click. Unlike an RTS like Blizzard's Warcraft which adds humor to clicking units, Exit 2 makes you regret every order given... until you discover the convenient option to deactivate sound effects altogether. The music isn't as bad, though, but it can become repetitive, especially when a certain level is restarted over too many times.
The biggest draw of Exit 2, aside from its cleverly designed puzzles, is its graphical presentation. Just like Exit, everything looks stylish and colorful, easily making it one of the nicest-looking XBLA games in the catalog. Animated backgrounds help give a comic book atmosphere in every level, and the characters, though constructed in an incredibly simple manner, are easily identifiable. Mr. Esc's trademark red scarf and yellow fedora stands out wherever he happens to be. New civilian types like the strong man/woman and dogs fit in quite well with the already established NPC types, both visually and mechanically.
[image3]Controlling Mr. Esc, though, can prove to be this game's final nail in the coffin for someone who is undecided on picking it up. It is incredibly stiff and feels locked to a grid, making Exit 2 feel like it's related to the old-school Prince of Persia in a bad way. This stiffness makes puzzle-solving even more difficult at spots, since an extra box push can ruin a makeshift bridge or a wrongly calculated jump can end in a pit.
On a positive note, the variety of levels is strong. Every level set is broken up into ten separate missions, each with their own objectives, whether it's all the victims that need rescuing... or just a few. Yes, you'll be finally be able to relive the whole "shoot me" scenario from Speed, where you'll have to sacrifice some lives to save others. There are 22 sets of missions ported over from the PSP version of the game and 3 sets of bonus XBLA exclusives. All in all, Exit 2 is bound to have a lot of replay value for the dedicated crowd, including time trial leaderboards for the competitive few. And if the same treatment given to the original game comes by this time around, more downloadable scenarios may be made available, hopefully for free.
Exit 2 certainly does not stray far from its predecessor, in both the good and the bad. The new situations alongside the few additions to the survivor characters provide a lot of new and interesting challenges. In the end, whether you pick this up will be solely based on how many of the problems you are willing to ignore to enjoy it for what it is: an 800 Microsoft Points downloadable puzzle game. Now would you give that guy a hand, so he'll shut up?