You were born to do more than wake up, sit in traffic, and work for eight hours a day, five to six days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year. You were meant to be more than a slave to a paycheck, to fret over paying bills, mortgages or rent. You were meant to live. To thrive! This is a mighty big world we live in and it’s begging to be seen, explored, conquered by you, an adventurer! A lover of life, not some drone trapped in a stuck in a two-piece suit. So cast off those neck ties! Burn those pantsuits! Say “no” to corporate culture and strike out on your own and learn to live life! That’s the message I took from Salary Man Escape VR, a PSVR puzzle game in which you help guide a faceless, nameless man in a suit escape the humdrum, oppressive business culture. I personally couldn’t walk away from my paying job like the eponymous Salary Man because I’ve developed a lifestyle of video games and Dungeons & Dragons that I must continue to fund. In any case, Salary Man Escape VR is as quirky as they come, featuring a great pop soundtrack that goes against the grain of a black and white corporatocracy.
Escaping from unseen managers and fatcat CEOs involves completing a series of physics-based puzzles. Not unlike the game Jenga, each level contains a small island made from differently sized white and grey blocks, many of which are marked by one word motivational (more like de-motivational) phrases. Supporting many of these blocks are red-colored bricks that can be interacted with using the DualShock controller or PlayStation Move wand. Like Jenga, you can move these blocks out from the island, creating new platforms, passages, and pathways from the white and grey blocks that the Salary Man can safely traverse. You don't control the Salary Man’s movements directly, so the game’s challenge is all about manipulating the different blocks in just the right way to make an unobstructed pathway, free from pitfalls and steps, to the level’s exit identified as a simple white wooden door.
The use of physics, simulated gravity and momentum can have a significant impact on how you interact with a given stage. Using a PlayStation Move wand or the DualShock controller, pulling away red blocks can change the structure of a level. What I’ve noticed about moving these blocks around is that the physics engine makes the moveable elements more than a little twitchy. Moving one block creates a sort of ripple effect with those close by, giving the impression that everything hangs by a thread. And if you mess up, like pulling the wrong brick at the right time or screwing up the timing of a movement puzzle, there’s nothing to do but restart the level over or pick it up from a checkpoint (represented in game as a big, steaming cup of coffee). There are no redos or undo buttons, which kind of stinks because of how easily you can ruin any progress by doing the wrong thing. Success in Salary Man Escape VR is the byproduct of intense trial and error. There are no hints to lead you in the right direction and in many levels I had trouble which ended up being textbook cases of insanity because I’d try the same thing over and over while desperately hoping for a different result. What’s more, the exit door is oddly fragile and will break if it’s jostled too much, forcing a restart. Puzzles can either be pretty straightforward or tricky enough to make you bash your head against the wall. The “aha!” moments feel really good on a difficult levels, though I’d often say to myself, “oh, dummy, it was SO obvious!” after the twelfth attempt.
Salary Man Escape VR has an interesting aesthetic. The game world is presented entirely in shades of grey, white, and black which gives it all a nice, evocative feeling of corporate lifelessness. This runs counter to the wonderfully eclectic soundtrack, made up of a mix of Japanese pop music with a really great beat. The last time I experienced such a strange dissonance in style and presentation was Killer7 and even Katamari Damacy, games that also played around and experimented with soundtracks and unique visuals. The overworld/stage select screen resembles a bustling city filled with skyscrapers stretching high in the sky but the levels themselves are floating islands hovering above a large office desk complete with a desktop computer and keyboard, table lamp, and telephone. You can’t interact with the environment in any way but when the level ends, a “motivational” statement celebrating working life pops up on the computer before you head back out to the stage select. All this looks and sounds cool, though I don’t see any of it really benefiting from VR. It doesn’t add any immersion and while I could see it being used to give you a new perspective on the three dimensional puzzles, you can simply adjust their orientation using the analog stick or Move wand.
Salary Man Escape for the PSVR offers an interesting take on Jenga puzzles and the soul-sucking nightmare that is the “rat race.” It also has a level of quirk some folks will recognize and appreciate. Though I found it to be more often frustrating than fun, especially after new level mechanics are introduced, it’s a decent concept backed by a really great soundtrack. I did have some pretty dramatic tracking issues with both the DualShock and Move wand and regardless of me sitting down or standing up, I watched helplessly as I saw my in-game controller/pointer drift off to the right before my very eyes. And for a game that requires some level of finesse with moving blocks on and around a fragile exit portal, tracking shouldn’t be this problematic (resetting/recentering the camera didn’t seem to help but, strangely enough, shaking the controller did). If the concept of Salary Man Escape’s brand of slider puzzles sounds like it scratches an itch, and you don’t mind suffering from genuinely difficult setups, you’ll likely learn to look past the faults in favor of sticking it to your virtual corporate masters.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.