A Rogue Escape Preview: An Exclusive Look At A Spooky VR Adventure

Interactivity is key when it comes to VR. If you pop me into a space, I expect to be able to interact with each and every object sprawled out before me. If I can’t, the agency in this virtual environment is quickly taken away. All of the best games in the medium do this, with Half-Life: Alyx and Superhot VR being just a couple that make the world you inhabit feel truly tangible. Within moments I’m lost, almost forgetting that I’ve got a fancy box strapped to my head beaming such images into my retinas.

A Rogue Escape is a similar experience, drawing you into the claustrophobic confines of a Nauticrawl, a sprawling, otherworldly mech that you have no idea how to operate. The opening moments have me glancing around a dimly lit cockpit, all manner of levers and knobs protruding out from a machine that seems utterly devoid of life. I pick up a tablet from a nearby workstation, staring blankly at the slab of metal before realising it’s actually instructions on how to get this hunk of junk moving. My goal is to steal it, which I have a feeling won’t go down too well.

It’s almost frightening – the daunting prospect of making this machine come to life with little more than my own intuition seems like an impossible task. Despite this, I follow the instructions written before me, which are little more than a handful of roughly drawn sketches. After fumbling around the confines of my metallic prison for a couple of minutes, I finally uncover the first set of switches I need to activate.

The moment my fingers switch them on, small elements of the craft spring to life, subtle noises throughout indicating that perhaps I’m on the right course. With a smile on my face I press forward, following the next handful of steps until the engine finally springs to life. A circular map lights up before me, showing my position on a screen that makes it abundantly clear that I’m underwater. That should have been obvious given the window beside me, but I’m a dumbass and took forever to even notice it.

A monitor to my right also displays a selection of options, allowing me to delve into documentation and other aspects of my mission. Because I’m a thief trying to steal a vehicle I’ve never used before in my life, most of it comes across as complete gibberish. There’s a beauty to this though – I feel like a voyeuristic intruder, peeking through information I have no business knowing. I pass it by for now, since I’m having enough trouble figuring out the basics, let alone diving into the greater lore at play.

My next mission is to conquer the driving controls, which are more than a little cumbersome. A wheel controls the direction I’m facing, while a lever beside it is capable of propelling me forward a determined distance. You have to take things one step at a time, being careful to avoid walls, traps, or turrets that can lock on and tear the craft to pieces. It’s an almost meditative exercise, with every small action inside the craft leading to big consequences.

This is both innovative and frustrating for those who don’t want to spend several minutes rebooting the damn thing when power runs out, which I’ll note is a very common occurrence. When power is depleted, or you’ve failed to balance it across all of the Nauticrawl’s systems, the entire thing will slow to a crawl. As it does, a spinny thing (I dunno what else to call it) will descend from the ceiling, requiring a quick whirl to kick things back into action. It’s easy to perform, but having to do it so much was a bit of a nightmare.

I feel this cumbersome exercise is purposeful in its annoyance, all servg the immersion I’m expected to feel as an impromptu pilot of the unknown. It worked, but it rarely stopped me from cursing under my breath like an idiot as each new obstacle crossed my path. But with challenge comes triumph, and I felt like an absolute genius when my craft finally started moving, shifting through the underwater tunnels like nobody’s business. The outside world is shrouded from view, leaving your imagination to fill in the blanks.

Foreign noises and brief glimpses at underwater life make it clear I’m not alone down here, but it never comes across as scary. Instead I was intrigued, eager to catch just a tiny peek of what’s out there. The sense of discovery is palpable, the restrictive nature of the game’s setting making it so fascinating to explore. I’ve only dabbled in the opening level and a little beyond, but it seems the Nauticrawl is a towering beast with multiple levels, each requiring a distinct set of skills to operate.

Each level is like a layered escape room, the task of operating its intricate machinery a puzzle in itself as you’re challenged to memorise sequential patterns and navigate an increasingly dangerous space. I’ll be honest, this isn’t a game for virtual reality enthusiasts who simply want to sink into something fun and accessible. A Rogue Escape is built to be approached with a slow, gentle pace. I approached it this way, learning each new element of my craft with melodic deliberacy. If I rushed, it would all fall apart and I’d need to start over.

Much like escape rooms, you’re going to be stumped once or twice, but I tried to welcome each conundrum as it scrambled its way into my brain. While some aspects of the wider design could be fine-tuned simply to make things more approachable, A Rogue Escape is a delightful VR caper from what I’ve played so far, taking a well-worn genre and doing something truly fresh with it. I just hope the octopus outside my underwater craft doesn’t eat me…

Next: Resident Evil 4 VR Is The Perfect Way To Revive A Classic

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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously head of gaming content over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.

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