Fire Escape Review: A Complex, Engaging Interactive VR Thriller

by Jamie Feltham • January 4th, 2019

Remember Private Eye? It was an early VR demo that captured a lot of attention. The game’s premise had players overlooking a block of apartments and peering into the lives of others to solve mysteries. It sadly never came to fruition but the concept lives on in Fire Escape.

This is a tense interactive VR murder mystery from 1979 Revolution developer, Ink Stories. In it, you find yourself out on the fire escape of your apartment, surveying a group of tenants that are being pressured to leave their homes by a ruthless landlord. Graffitied walls and dingy, dimly-lit apartments make it clear that people aren’t happy. Then the landlord calls everyone upstairs to kick them all out. It doesn’t take a detective to see where that situation might lead. Sure enough, you’ll soon find yourself exploring each character’s backstory and motivations across three episodes. Each window has a story to tell, and it’s up to you who you focus on.

There’s an obvious comparison to be made with Tequila Works’ The Invisible Hours here, though Fire Escape is a more accessible approach to the VR murder mystery. It’s impossible to get the entire story in one playthrough, but you can get a taste of every suspect by listening in on their conversations with each other.

Crucially, there’s authenticity in its depiction of a rundown Brooklyn block and its inhabitants. Each member of the cast has depth and diversity, hiding skeletons in their closets that make them plausible suspects. The loyal but beleaguered Sal finds himself trapped between his boss’s demands and his friendship with tenants. A YouTuber with growing popularity takes flight as things go south. Elsewhere, a successful couple find their relationship unravel. The writing is sharp as is the voice acting, making it easier to invest in the cast and overlook the somewhat dated visuals.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Fire Escape, though, is how it keeps you engaged in its story across close to an hour of content. That makes it easily one of the longest VR experiences I’ve yet seen. Each of the 20-minute installments is punchy and generous in its delivery of twists and turns. The developer delivers gripping cliffhangers and the substance in between to keep you engaged. Perhaps it’s down to the freedom each viewer has to follow the stories that interest them, come to their own decisions about the suspects and spread their focus accordingly. You’ll occasionally be forced to watch certain sequences but the vast majority of the story is on you to discover.

It gives Fire Escape complex layers that the viewer can decide what to do with. A single viewing gave the piece a gripping structure. I anxiously worried about what other scenes and puzzle pieces I was missing. At the same time, you could just as easily go back and study each character individually to get the full picture. But it’s to Ink Stories’ credit that Fire Escape works either way.

The night’s events might end on something of a flat note (although multiple endings are available), but it’s of little consequence. Fire Escape’s solid pacing and grip on its engaging characters make it a respectable stab at the VR whodunnit. If you have any interest in the genre, don’t miss this.

Final Say: Worth Watching

Fire Escape is available now on Google Daydream. The first episode is free whereas the others are available as in-app purchases.

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