Review for Don’t Escape: 4 Days to Survive
Something is wrong with the moon. It’s been torn in two and appears to be hurtling towards us but I can’t worry about that now; the swarm is coming and I need to prepare. The windows are boarded and pesticide mist will soon disperse. There’s not much time left: 1 hour 44 minutes to be exact. Do I have time to make it to the gas station and refuel, or should I hunker down and play it safe? Have I missed anything that could help me survive the night, or is the house secure and protected? I decide to make the trek, hoping there are no surprises along the way.
Don’t Escape: 4 Days to Survive is a third-person, point-and-click pixel art game with a focus on survival management. Developed by Scriptwelder, it is the first commercial sequel from the Polish studio after three freeware releases sharing the “Don’t Escape” name. The gameplay is similar to any basic adventure game: You start out with nothing other than an empty backpack while traversing a desert. From there you’ll make stops at various locations, solving puzzles and looking for items that will help fortify your position before nightfall, when you hope your actions will protect you from a specific threat that day. The presentation is decidedly low-budget, and the story and characters are never particularly deep, but the ongoing time cycle creates an episodic feel that grabs you from the moment each new day begins and doesn’t let up until your fate is revealed each night.
Movement is standard for a game like this: left-click once makes you walk, twice makes you run. Actions are performed by left-clicking on objects in the environment and observing is done by right-clicking. At the top left of the screen is your journal, which will summarize important plot details and give you small hints and starting points. There is a main world map you use to travel to different locations seeded throughout the wasteland. More places become available each day, and you may need to revisit older ones to solve newer obstacles. Your main hub is an abandoned home with a farmhouse and truck in the back that you find early on. This is where you will spend most of your time – including your nights, when you must fend off that day’s danger.
Gameplay is simple yet effective. Each morning you wake from a premonition-filled dream hinting at the destruction coming your way that day. You then have twelve hours to prepare. You may be preparing for a horde of locust-like bugs or spiders, or an arctic blast that will freeze anything in its path. The day does not progress in real time; instead specific actions will advance the clock. A simple task like duct taping a window may take a few minutes, but something more complex like building a makeshift bridge will take considerably longer. The game will warn you before these undertakings so you’ll know how much time you’ll have left once complete. There’s also a clock icon on-screen that will tell you the time remaining when hovering on it.
When you are ready to end the day, you can click on the clock to bring on the event you’ve been preparing for. At this point a bar appears at the top of the screen with a 100% marker. Each action you took to safeguard your home takes a certain percentage off the bar. Similar to the time mechanic, smaller actions like making sure you closed the door may take a few points off, but more important ones like installing a sonic insect repellant device and tuning it to the correct frequency will make a huge impact. Each of these actions is summarized one by one, giving the gameplay a simulation-type feel. If you’ve done enough, you will survive and move on. If not, you will be subjected to a gruesome cutscene featuring your demise. The game will then restart at a point when you still have enough time to make the necessary changes.
Time is not the only thing you’ll have to monitor and keep tabs on. Your backpack only holds 30 kg, so you’ll need to make sure you have room when venturing out. Thankfully you have a cargo box in your truck and house in which you can stash items you may not need at the moment. If you do need to add something to your inventory but do not have the weight capacity available, you can drop a different item from your bag wherever you may be and come back for it later. You don’t have to worry about it disappearing—holding the Shift key will highlight it for you when you return to pick it up. This does not diminish the importance of your storage boxes, however. If you drop an item in a random location and realize you need it later on, you’ll have to take time off the clock by travelling there and back, so dropping your possessions should be done as a last resort.
The game can be unforgiving in the sense that it does not push you towards your goal. Your journal may give you a nudge, but you are left to your own devices on what you need to do to escape the night unscathed. There’s no hotspot indicator (except for previously dropped inventory), which could have been frustrating, but thankfully objects are detailed enough to avoid pixel hunting so you shouldn’t have a problem with missing items. The lack of hand-holding leads to a real feeling of accomplishment when the Achievement box pops up to let you know you made enough of the proper choices. It also makes the game quite replayable; I made sure to keep a save file for the beginning of each day so I could go back and find what I missed.
There are a few traditional kinds of puzzles as well, which are simple but fun. Rewiring a line of electricity in order to shut power down to a door while also keeping it running for an elevator, or moving wires through different voltage points in order to reach a specific total are stimulating enough to wake your brain, but not frustrating enough to send you running to a walkthrough. You’ll also need to repair vehicles by collecting items and combining them, which will then help you cross the landscape faster.
The plot is standard apocalyptic fare. Corporate greed has obliterated society, and a drilling incident has caused an enormous crack in the moon. There’s a great line likening the moon to an executioner’s axe hanging over your head. It is there whenever you are out in the world, looming large in the distance and adding to the hopelessness and feeling of impending doom. The overall story opens up more each day, filled in by torn magazine excerpts and newspaper articles people have left behind in their rush to meet their fate. The game takes a decidedly sci-fi turn towards the end and can get a bit convoluted, but it does not detract from what makes the experience so compelling. By the end of Day 4, you are still trying to survive by any means necessary.
If there is a weak point to the experience, it’s the characters and dialog. You will meet a variety of people in your travels, in places like an abandoned restaurant, an old house, and even a crashed helicopter. Three of the people you meet will become companions and join you. The gameplay does not change with these party members added, as they are not playable or bring special abilities, but they do flesh out some aspects of the story. One of them, Cate, knows more about what caused the collapse, and eventually you will too. There’s an inconsistency to most of your new cohorts, however. Cate cannot figure out if she wants to be a kind, helpful companion or a mean, spiteful one. At times, she would have a sarcastic reply to my character, and other times she would be nice and then mean again in the same interaction. The dialog is all written, with no voice acting, and you converse with people via a line of images leading to different questions. These serve mostly as filler and don’t contribute to moving the plot or time of day along.
Your character, the protagonist, is quite boring and mainly just acts as your vessel to move forward through to the end. In fact, I had to look up his name afterward because I didn’t even remember it (David). He doesn’t develop at all at as person throughout the course of the game, and though it’s only four days, with the world about to end it’d be far easier to care about his fate if there were better character development in the shadow of impending doom.
The art and sound design have a minimalist flavor. The pixel graphics give off an early- to mid-nineties vibe, the brown-based color palette working for a dry world now dominated by desert and dust. The soundtrack is simple but haunting, a female voice humming along to the tune with a melancholy deserving of the end of the world. Sound effects like the echo of a footstep or a creak of a door add to the emptiness of the environment.
Finishing the game won’t take too long, but it does not feel short by any means. I completed it in about seven hours, and that was after loading an older save file occasionally in order to be more efficient with my preparation time. There are alternate endings based on what you bring with you to your final location and how you prepare your vehicle on Day 4, so you can always go back and see how things could have turned out differently. It matters, too, as your choices can have life-and-death consequences for your companions.
Once you finish playing the first time, there’s a New Game + option that allows you to restart and get the “true” ending, giving you greater control over the fate of the other characters. There’s more replayability than just changing the ending, however. There are various options for each day’s cataclysmic event, which seem to be randomly generated. Day 3, for example, may involve a destructive acid rain thunderstorm to contend with, or there could be an armed gang invading the homestead, such that no two playthroughs are likely to be the same.
Don’t Escape: 4 Days to Survive is an intriguing game from start to finish. It’s smart and challenging but not frustrating, even with so little guidance. The presentation is decidedly retro, the characters largely forgettable, and it doesn’t quite stick the landing as well as it could have, but the survival aspect mixed with point-and-click gameplay is riveting throughout and after finishing the first time I was eager to revisit its world, which is saying a lot considering it was about to end all over again.