Fight Your Basic Instincts: Don't Escape 1/2/3
The human condition is defined by our shared experiences, desires, and life events. We are all born. We grow. We die. In the brief period of our lives, we are defined by our instincts. The instinct to survive. The instinct to breed. And the instinct to be curious.
It's a natural resting point for us to question our surroundings. Perhaps it ties back to the survival instinct; after all with knowledge comes power and the ability to survive with greater ease. Discovery leads to invention. Still, with our lives already quite comfortable, we strive for the unknown. We go into the dark places just to see what's in there.
So what happens when you lock us away and throw away the key? If you put someone in a room, and provide food, shelter and clothing, why would they ever want to leave the room? Because they HAVE to. There's a driving, burning need to be free to explore.
Adventure game makers have played on this instinct for years. Indeed, this adventurous instinct has spilled over into real life as well, with companies creating scripted "Locked Room" scenarios. People are paying to be given the experience of being trapped in a room, to feel the thrill of getting out. Escape the room. That's the goal, at all times.
So what happens when you have to fight that instinct?
You get Scriptwelder's Don't Escape series.
Don't Escape 1
In the first instalment of Scriptwelder's little series on turning the "Escape the Room" formula on its head, you are a werewolf. That probably seems pretty on the nose, but that's what I love about this little game. You play a person cursed with the standard trope: full moon, gruesome transformation, bestial rampage, etc. But you're not a bad person. You don't want to hurt people. To that end, your goal is simple. You must lock yourself up with ropes, chains, blockades...anything you can find. You have found yourself a remote cabin suitable for this purpose. You have until nightfall to restrain yourself as much as possible.
Like Scriptwelder's Deep Sleep series, the Don't Escape series are point-and-click adventure games. You explore the cabin, finding useful tools and items to help in your goal. The tricky thing is that in some cases, items are hidden in unexpected places, or don't act exactly as you might expect (one of the first keys you find, for example, does not fit an obvious locked chest).
What I really enjoy about Don't Escape 1 is that, in the end, your efforts are measured by a scale. When the night falls and you transform, the werewolf's attempts to break free are listed. It chews through the rope. It struggles with the chain. And if you screw up, it mentions that too. Maybe you left the window open. Maybe you didn't lock the door, even if you closed it. These things give you clues to completing the game to 100% on your next playthrough. It's immensely satisfying.
Don't Escape 2
If I'm being honest, Don't Escape 2 is, in my opinion, the weakest of the series. Why? Because zombies. And zombies have been done to death (pun most definitely intended).
So in this instalment, you are a survivor of a zombie outbreak trying to survive yet another night in a horrible post-apocalyptic wasteland. When night falls, the zombies come calling, so you have only 8 hours to prepare your little fortress, with or without the aid of others.
This game does have some neat innovations over its predecessor, with a huge variety of ways to emerge victorious. There are moments where you have to make key choices that will affect the outcome. Do you allow your friend Bill, who has been bitten, to live? Do you use the fuel you discover to power a generator, or a car?
What disappoints me is that unlike the previous narrative reasoning for trying to prevent your own escape, which was interesting and unique, this one falls back into clichés and tropes all too familiar. There's no real surprises here. All the usual beats are hit in all the usual ways, and this is less about defying natural instinct, and more about playing right into survival instinct.
Don't Escape 3
Finally, we have Don't Escape 3, to me the strongest and most unique of the series. It kicks off with a jolt to the senses. You're in an airlock, and if you don't do something right away you will have all the open space you want.
When I first started playing this game, I suspected that might be the play on the "don't escape" theme. You do not WANT to escape the comfortable confines of your ship, derelict though it may be. It and it's comfy steel walls are the only thing keeping you from a horrible death.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover, however, that the narrative leads to something much more interesting. I don't want to give away too much, but what you find in the final piece of Scriptwelder's trilogy involves a trail of bodies, an alien lifeform, and a decision between self-preservation and the greater good.
What makes the Don't Escape trilogy unique in the horror game landscape is that it involves defying your natural gamer chops. Generally speaking, horror and survival are so closely linked that people almost always refer to them as the "survival horror" genre. Here, though, you're fighting for more than survival, or curiosity, or exploration. Here, you're fighting your basic instincts.