I should start off by saying that I wasn't fortunate enough to have played 999 (I've heard some pretty amazing things about it), so I really didn’t know what to expect when playing its follow-up Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. Some may argue that that's a bad thing, others may say that it really isn't necessary to play the sequel. But in the end, what I was treated to was an incredibly captivating, albeit baffling gaming experience, worthy of high praise and accolades.
Zero Escape is made-up of two components: a narrative aspect where the game's key players are chatting it up, and a puzzle-solving aspect - better known as the gameplay. As a whole, it plays out as something of an interactive storybook, coupled with some of the most mind-bending brain-teasers ever imagined along with gripping morality choices to create a brilliant and unforgettable gaming experience. Without giving away too many details – as Zero Escape is all about its narrative – you are one of eight captives imprisoned in a top secret government facility forced to play a tortuous game for your freedom – all at the behest of a sadistic talking bunny. I know that sounds completely bonkers, but suffice it to say, Zero Escape is incredibly well-written and features – for the most part – superb voice-acting. And while it may be sometimes tough to follow, it doesn't prevent the story from being any less engaging. To make matters even better, the puzzles are just as satisfying, if not more so.
Simply put the puzzles in Zero Escape are just clever, and sometimes positively genius. In the moments where you deciphering cryptic message, assembling tools, and searching for hidden files, time seems to stand still, while meanwhile hours have passed – it is that engrossing. Aside from moving you between the game's story segments, the puzzle portions also provide a better understanding of Zero Escape's narrative. Those aforementioned hidden files – documents that you really have to go out of your way to find – add another layer to the game's story. And that is what is so incredible about this game; the digger the deep into the puzzle solving segments, the more rewarding the experience. So those who love to comb over every little detail are going to have an absolute field day. The incentive to explore is there, all you have to do is know where to look to reap the benefits.
I do have one minor gripe with the gameplay portion, and that is this: the point-and-click controls can be a bit of a headache. Too many times I had to backtrack because of an input error. But rest assured that this is only a small issue in a monumentally stellar title.
As of this writing I have yet to complete Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, but I am compelled to write a review regardless; that is how great of an experience it is. I look forward to completing the game to see which of the multiple endings I've unlocked. The classic “prisoners dilemma” scenario the game periodically puts you in has you either “ally” with the others or “betray” them, so making the right (or morally wrong) choice can either gain or lose points. You need nine point to leave the hell you have woken up in, whereas zero points nets you death. Figuring out the motives of others, while balancing your own moral compass is just another part of what makes Zero Escape a must-have title.
Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward is at times creepy, and overall a well thought-out, puzzling game. A welcome addition to any on-the-go gamer's library, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward is a worthy of your time and attention. And you know what, I may just go back and pick up 999 as well.
Fun Factor: Engaging and compelling, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward is the ultimate in portable gaming joy…just be mindful of those controls.
Difficulty: Variable; you can change your setting to make things easier from puzzle-to-puzzle.
Length: Depending on choices and your intellect, you are looking at a LONG investment of time. There are a multitude of endings to see as well so expect to keep playing long after your first playthrough.
On the Negative Side: Poor voice acting by a couple of characters takes you ever so slightly out of the experience. The game's mechanics – which could use a bit more polish – are taught to you in the longest, most convoluted way imaginable.
Bang for your Buck: This game feels like a portable AAA game. A $34.99-$39.99 price tag is just right.