Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue is a branching narrative visual novel that sees 11 people from across the globe get kidnapped and stranded on an island with each other, with no rules and no laws to govern them. Their goal? Provide entertainment for “viewers” in a twisted reality TV show and survive for six months, at the end of which each contestant still breathing will receive $500,000 and be free to go on their way. Their only lifeline to outside civilisation is the elusive DeWynter twins, the women running the show who may help them, but only for a mighty price. A simple yet effective premise for a story, so how well does Dreamloop Games go about telling it?
I spent a long time trying to figure out how to go about this review. Even explaining why I would struggle with it is something I mulled over how to approach. The main issue with Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue is that, in short, it is four different games wearing a trench coat pretending to be just one. A lot of the marketing for Inescapable painted it as a death game inspired by the likes of Danganronpa and Zero Escape, but in reality, this is just a small portion of the game that the average player may not even experience at all on the first playthrough. To explain fully, this will involve minor details for how the story branches out, which may put some people off reading ahead, but if you are on the fence about Inescapable, I implore you to read on because this is a game where you’re very likely to come out of it having experienced something that was nothing like what you wanted or expected.
To start, you play Harrison, a 23-year-old bus driver from London. After waking up inside a shipping container on the island with a mysterious phone that seems to open to his fingerprint, he ventures through the woods and eventually finds a holiday resort where his fellow contestants wait. Besides being a bit introverted, most of Harrison’s personality and past is a blank slate, which allows players to put themselves into him as a person whilst still maintaining his own voice and thoughts. Harrison acts as a surprising foil of normalcy for a very colourful cast of characters who serve as one of the game’s strongest features. Harrison’s blandness actually works in the game's favour here, as each character alone has very strong foundations and clearly had a lot of care put into them. Everyone the player will meet is instantly recognisable, delivers their own personality, and fits well into the tone of the game from the get-go.
This is aided by both the art style, which does an effective job of giving each contestant a unique appearance and silhouette, and the voice acting, which felt a little inconsistent in quality but absolutely grew on me as the game went on. The Voice actor for Naomi DeWynter was especially delightful and clearly had a blast with all her lines, and Isak equally made sure to make the most of his theatrical flair. VAs for Mia and Harrison also deserve praise for their performance in the later parts of the game. It’s telling that each character could function as a primary protagonist in their own story, which both lends to the narrative itself and is a testament to how well they are characterised, at least at first.
Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue offers four different “routes” for the player to take: Lust, Greed, Suspicion, and Trust. The route you end up on depends on your choices in the early parts of the game. Inescapable’s gameplay loop, at first, revolves around mingling with the other contestants. You have three-time slots each day, and you can use these to go to the various locations around the island and talk with whoever may be there. These can be interrupted by automatic or predetermined events, but the first half of the game or so will revolve almost solely around this mechanic. Depending on who you talk to and the various decisions you make across the first 50—60 days or so, you will accrue points in these four aforementioned categories, and when the time comes, you will be locked into one of these routes depending on which is highest.
It is with these routes that the issues with the game’s image come in, in that only the Suspicion route follows the Danganronpa-style of gameplay like the majority of the marketing seemed to suggest. If you end up on a different route (which you have no way of knowing until too late, even on repeat playthroughs), then tough shit. The decisions needed to get on the route can be confusing at best and convoluted at worst, as there is no way to track your current tally in the early game, to the point where even Steam guides for how to get the different routes say their guides are mostly guesswork. Having a branching narrative that completely changes the game you are playing and having it be a hidden feature is a baffling idea and one that does not work in the game's favour. Not only this, but there’s no CG gallery and only 30 save slots, which you will go through very quickly and is not nearly enough to accommodate a standard playthrough, let alone multiple. It’s a game that wants you to replay it while simultaneously making that as painful an experience as possible.
This review is being written from the perspective of someone who, thankfully, landed on the Suspicion route. The Suspicion route is the only route most players will be interested in if the marketing and allusions to Danganronpa are what pulled them in, and it also seems to be the best route the game has to offer from deep diving into the others. I have not personally played all the routes because doing so would take a ludicrous amount of time for the simple reason that the game is not friendly to replay despite practically begging you to do so. From looking up playthroughs and going through various discussions regarding the other routes, many of my issues with the Suspicion path are significantly more prevalent in the other paths.
A major issue I had with the Suspicion path was that I felt I was no longer in control of Harrison. Each route revolves around a core theme that attempts to play into the way you, as a player, have been controlling Harrison, which sounds like a great idea on paper, but the game is not clever enough to execute it successfully. The player will spend around 10 hours or so with Harrison as a playable character, only for that to get ripped away as the game gets put on rails for the remainder of the story. Once you’re on a route, there is pretty much nothing you can do as a player to influence the story or Harrison’s behaviour, and this can go from the minorly annoying “I can’t talk to my favourite character because I got railroaded into an arbitrary argument with her” in the Suspicion path to the terrifyingly uncomfortable “Harrison is being a borderline sexual predator and Grade-A misogynistic asshole” that occurs multiple times in the Lust path. I’m not necessarily opposed to exploring these elements, especially because the game actually does a pretty good job of navigating them; Harrison and Mia’s reconciliation in the Suspicion Path feels so natural, I couldn’t help but like it in the end, and in the Lust path, Harrison is constantly called out on his bullshit. Despite this, to give players control of Harrison for half of the game, only to take him away and have him, and by extension, the players themselves, do rather abhorrent things, doesn’t feel good on the player at all, especially when a lot of the marketing for the game already obfuscated the overall content. Inescapable is essentially four kinetic stories rather than a branching one; your decisions in the first 50 days will dictate which story is told to you for the remaining 130 days. Once a route has started, you have no bearing; for all intents and purposes, you are no longer Harrison.
Whilst Harrison suffers from changing too much, the other characters have the opposite problem. For what appeared to be the game's strongest suit, the fact that most of the characters don’t grow with the narrative was a massive letdown. Whilst it seems this is alleviated in part during the Trust path (which is considered by many to be the “true” or “best” ending), the average player will almost never experience that path without the use of a guide. The best example of this for the route I took is the characters of Sasha and Isak. In the early game, they were some of my favourites to interact with: Sasha for their pragmatic outlook, crude manners, and even cruder jokes, and Isak for his aforementioned dramatising. However, as the stakes started rising throughout and the game transitioned from a slice of life to a murder mystery, what I liked about them began to become what made them unbearable. Sasha continuing to make dick jokes or calling Harrison a twink lost its charm when they did it standing over a dead body, especially when it began teetering into harassment. Meanwhile, Isak’s inability to take anything seriously as the game itself was trying to evolve around him made him feel completely incongruous with the narrative and resulted in me skipping his dialogue in the later parts of the game.
The standout characters ended up being Mia, your detective sidekick throughout the murders; Annika, a housemaid with developmental issues who slowly unravels as everything falls down around her; and Eva, a viral video “star” whose overuse of slang and love of attention can seem tiring at first, but make way to deliver one of the only characters who actually develops in any meaningful way throughout the story. I didn’t see myself caring much for Eva when the game started, but she’s one of the only characters that seems to actually change in a way that makes sense. It leaves almost every character feeling one-dimensional, which is genuinely disheartening because of how well-established they are in the beginning.
With all of this, how well does the game do the “murder mystery thriller” that is predominantly advertised? Unfortunately, not that well. In the first case, thus marking the start of the Suspicion path, Harrison is assigned the island detective role by the DeWynter twins and given access to the “Island Sleuth” app on his phone. Using this, he can photograph evidence and deduce links between them. Island Sleuth is one of the better-integrated apps that the game offers, but a confusing choice was to remove the “Character Bios” section a few days before the murders began. The Character Bios section contained, as you can guess, brief insights into each contestant, as well as ‘Dirt’ and ‘Gossip’ on them that you could unlock through the game. Removing the main source of information you have on the other contestants, right as you need it most, was an unusual decision, but I soon realised that it ultimately didn’t matter how much I knew or didn’t know.
In the first case, I ended up taking physical notes of all the alibis, marking down discrepancies, and taking notes of anything suspicious. When the time came to present it all, I ended up being completely wrong for two reasons: first, a piece of information given by a character actively conflicted with multiple testimonies from other people, but this ended up going nowhere. Given how Harrison, or anyone else, never brings this up, I can only assume it was not an intentional discrepancy, especially given that this character would have no reason to lie. The second reason was that a pivotal piece of information was deliberately hidden from me. When I say me, I mean Me, The Writer, as this was something Harrison actively looked at but did not comment on, and there was no way for me as a player to see it. From this point, another character, Sasha, went on to explain how they had already solved the case because of this information that we are physically unable to see. A more egregious example occurs in the second case, in which Sasha finds an entire underground laboratory pertaining to the murder that we, as players, are never given the opportunity to even attempt to find or go inside, even after the fact; we just take their word on it and move on. Given that the case just gets solved for me by someone else regardless of whether I am correct or not in my evidence and accusations made the whole feeling of not having any weight on the story even worse; there’s no punishment for guessing wrong, you can’t start the final debate until you have deduced all the evidence, and none of this will matter because Sasha will reveal they know everything about the case anyway.
I really wanted to like Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue, and despite what my rather scathing analysis of it would have you believe, there is a part of me that did enjoy my time with the game. Even as I write, I’m weighing and debating my thoughts on the game and find myself unable to come to a solid conclusion. The story and pacing are an absolute mess, but there’s a certain charm in that. The murder-mystery elements are out of your control to a frustrating degree, but if you are ready for this and just go with the flow, it works a lot better. Characters start strong but act in confusing, arbitrary ways, yet this can lead to some poignant moments. The ending of the Suspicion route, especially, was very touching and is something I’m still thinking about over a week later. The voice acting is, overall, pleasant and well done. I only wish there was more of it to accompany the mostly enjoyable dialogue, as only about a third of the scenes in the game are fully voiced. It’s chock full of fun little references and isn’t afraid to even poke fun at itself or the conventions of the Visual Novel genre. The game’s music is also a small but massively enjoyable element. Each route has its own theme that takes over the default background music, and these themes alone do a masterful job of painting the scene and setting a tone for each path.
I feel I can’t recommend Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue unless you are a massive fan of visual novels as a whole and want another fix. The price tag is quite hefty, but if you’re aiming to explore everything, you’ll get more than enough value. If you come into Inescapable wanting an experience akin to Danganronpa or Zero Escape, you will be gravely disappointed, but if you go in with an open mind and an expectancy that you will have to roll with the punches occasionally, there are certainly worse options out there,
Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue (Reviewed on Windows)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
A lot of what Inescapable tries to do sounds fantastic on paper, but the game is not clever enough to pull it off, leaving a lot of unfortunate wasted potential. Avid visual novel fans will maybe enjoy how much content is on offer, but to anyone else, this game is difficult to recommend.