1990 – Escape from Hell

Your girlfriend has disappeared, along with your best friend? Your life has gone to Hell? A lot of us have been there, I am sure, but Richard Seaborne’s Escape from Hell takes those moments literally, turning them into a unique RPG premise – a cross between Dante’s Inferno and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

You are Richard, and due to a powerful magic incantation, or perhaps for your unexplained sins, you suddenly find yourself alive in Hell. Your girlfriend and your best friend are somewhere around, too, so you need to find them – and escape. Not without taking revenge on Satan for playing such a trick on you first, though. Which means it is time to grab an anti-tank rifle, team up with Stalin and Hamlet, and show Satan what you are made of, the way RPG heroes do!

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Exploring Hell’s wasted landscape and banding together with (in)famous historical and literary individuals is, in fact, what Escape from Hell is all about. Indeed, seeing as the game’s difficulty is fairly low, the main challenge lies precisely in deciding who will join or leave Richard’s side.

Mechanically, Escape from Hell is a simpler version of Wasteland: a top-down, turn-based RPG, with stats, skills (mostly combat-oriented, but sometimes not), and first-person fights featuring animated enemy portraits.

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Like many older CRPGs, Escape from Hell’s tone can get really wacky. (Remember Might and Magic’s roasted peasants or Wasteland’s bunny master?) It stays tongue-in-cheek throughout and never gives a damn about setting consistency. If that sounds fun to you, then you will enjoy the game’s humorous design and often clever writing, and the way it thematises Hell’s bureaucracy and dynamics of power, among other things. It’s the kind of off-the-rails creativity that, in these days of post-Kickstarter nostalgia and the AAA RPG crisis, the genre seems to sorely lack.

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Sadly, due to EA’s all-too-familiar shenanigans, the game was downscaled and rushed out. Alternative endings, six further circles of Hell, a lot of individual quest chains, and an alignment system, all had to be cut. That often leads to loose ends, and ultimately prevents it from reaching true RPG greatness. And yet, even in the state that it shipped in, Escape from Hell remains an unorthodox and one-of-a-kind RPG, bound to remain in your memory long after you have beaten it. Crooked Bee

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