Salary Man Escape is a physics-based puzzler from Red Accent Games and one that can be played in or out of the VR headset. The blurb on it describes it as edgy and satirical and for those of you who have to do the 9-5 grind, you’ll relate to the game’s quirky humour.
The tasks you with building a flat path for the titular Salary Man to the level’s exit doorway, via checkpoints which are cups of tea. Yes, we know that’s an odd sentence. Anyway, to do this you’ll need manipulate the red blocks that make us each stage, either discarding them to drop the blocks above them or using them as weights to counterbalance scales and that kind of thing. Physics plays a huge part and blocks can only be moved downwards or sideways.
You have two options when it comes to doing this. A single Move controller can be used to pull the blocks, something that feels a lot like playing the kid’s game Jenga, or you can use a DualShock 4 and point and aim with that and use the right analog stick to do the manipulation. The Move controller can only be used in VR mode but you can use the DualShock in either.
Initially the game makes things easy for you with early levels acting as basic tutorials but it soon ramps up and you’ll start being seriously taxed early on in the game’s first chapter. Later chapters follow this pattern, introducing new gameplay elements such as conveyor belts and glass blocks (that are destroyed if too much weight is put on them) before going full Al Leong in Lethal Weapon on your brain cells.
Your mileage may vary but we always felt as though the difficulty curve was far too much. We have no problem with difficult levels but we’d rather the journey there was a bit more sedate and often a tricky level will kill your progress stone dead for a while. Also, a personal bugbear for this reviewer is puzzle games that rely too much on trial and error and that’s definitely the case here, especially after the first chapter when the weight of blocks becomes a much bigger factor. At this point I felt like I was wasting minutes just moving one block at a time in order to see what would happen.
Also, the controls can be pretty fiddly and blocks can get a little bit stuck if things aren’t lined up just so. We had to restart levels far too many times and sometimes a perfectly good path just wouldn’t register and Salary Man would just stand there instead of running to the next checkpoint. In the end we ditched PSVR and Move for standard non-VR mode and a DualShock which definitely took a lot away from the game’s impact – VR is still pretty cool after all – but made the game a lot easier to play. In the end the VR mode felt a little unnecessary as it didn’t really benefit the gameplay and the game’s visuals were always too plain to really merit the use of VR.
The art style, as you can see, is pretty much greyscale with those red blocks standing out, perhaps a nod to dev studio’s name, with a generic office backdrop. The quirky Japanese music definitely evoked memories of playing things like Katamari Damacy though and this gave Salary Man a nice injection of character, as did the pithy office slogans that litter the game. But ultimately the game’s style ends up being just too minimal and when the gameplay starts to grind, the lack of visual variety starts to hurt the game.
And grind it does. Initially the gameplay feels interesting but the game falls into the trap that so many puzzle games do. It starts making the levels that bit too long and overly complicated. Moves you make early on in a level come back to haunt you several moves later and instead of seeing a problem and reacting to it, you have to start chaining everything together. Combined with the trial and error nature of each level, I started to dread each new screen.
There’s definitely some instant appeal to Salary Man Escape but before long I didn’t want to play it in VR mode and a little while longer I didn’t really want to play it at all but smarter gamers than me might enjoy what the game has to offer.
+ Some clever puzzles
+ Interesting music
+ Works in and out of VR
- Controls never feel all that comfortable
- VR is a bit unnecessary
- Levels can be too long and complex
- The physics can sometimes go awry