Freeloadable: the best serial killer game the Daily Mail missed

Come home with me.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, December 6, 2010

Not every great game has a $60 million budget behind it. Freeloadable is a more-or-less biweekly column devoted to the brightest and best of the independent development scene on PC. Criteria for inclusion are simple: the game must be free, and worth playing. Enjoy!

There’s something vaguely Rorschachian about A Beautiful Escape. It’s a game about serial killers, but looked at in a certain light, it’s also a game about being nice to people – as per the practices of the dating sim, much-sung in Japan and on certain corners of the internet. You have to be nice to people, see, or they won’t trust you, and you won’t be able to entrap and slaughter them.

Players take charge of the bespectacled, cat-eyed Verge, member of an international murdering cult known as the Dungeoneers. Little respected by his peers, Verge is besotted with the rather more celebrated Daily – a calculatedly androgynous figure, as Kieron Gillen observes over at Rock Paper Shotgun – and the banality of this one-sided romance gently, cleverly undercuts the macabre operatics of the premise.

Gameplay follows a rigid cycle, plot developments aside: you proceed to a location via the world map, pick out an appropriate psychological profile among the fast-forwarded hubbub of Unsuitables, and milk his or her trust gauge by picking the right dialogue responses. Once total acquiescence is obtained, Verge will invite the subject back to his apartment and lay them out unconscious in the basement. Traps of a SAW-ish variety – think water tanks, nooses, lattices of razor blades, some tied to basic QTEs – are then set along the route to the exit, Verge retires, and the victim has a shot at freedom.

Death is the least you should aim for, and even with the beginner’s range of torturing implements, deaths are pretty easy to achieve (more equipment is awarded on a performance-tested basis). The snuff videos you upload to the Dungeoneer site will be better reviewed, if the individual in hand is allowed to slip your clutches in a state of complete mental and physical collapse, beyond reach of the sane – the “beautiful escape” of the title.

The resemblance to Harry Potter is probably coincidental, but it's highly disconcerting nonetheless.

Needless to say, and in spite of those low-res, animation-deprived RPG Maker assets, the process is rather disturbing. Repellent, even. But it’s never repellent for the sake of repelling merely. Held together by scraps of terse, heavily ironic prose, Beautiful Escape is both a barebones account and a critique of psychopathy, one that invokes demons in order to master them. That’s how a critic might put things, anyway. There’s a lot going on here, and refining it all down to a sentence or two feels more than usually presumptuous.

Download it from RPG Maker. Not one to share with the kids, obviously.

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