Fire Escape: ‘as in Rear Window, your harmless prying soon escalates’. Photograph: iNK Stories
New York-based developer iNK Stories has signalled where if found inspiration for voyeuristic thriller Fire Escape, citing Alfred Hitchcock by name, if not the director’s 1954 film Rear Window, with which the game clearly shares its structural foundations. You play as a snooper perched on the fire escape of a top-floor Brooklyn apartment. From here you get to peer into the windows of the people who live in the brownstone across the alleyway, spying on their various habits and domestic dramas. The game, which can be played via virtual reality headset to give the full rubbernecker effect, tells its story through glimpsed vignettes. As in Rear Window, your harmless prying soon escalates when you witness a murder, and the game morphs into a whodunit in which you assume the role of a long-range, self-appointed sleuth.
The songwriter, dancer and artist residents of Hitchcock’s original have been swapped for modern equivalents: the YouTuber, the Iranian immigrant, the sharp-suited real estate mogul who lives in the top-floor penthouse and, it transpires, wants the other residents to move out as part of a gentrification drive. All the sun-dappled whimsy of Hitch’s original, which juxtaposed so threateningly with the crime at the centre of the drama, has been discarded in Fire Escape, which takes place at night and is a more straightforwardly fractious and grim affair.
While something is gained in the transposition from film to video game – the capacity to choose the camera’s focus at any given moment, the chance to revisit specific moments to catch what was occurring behind windows you overlooked the first time – there are losses too. It’s possible to miss key plot moments simply because your attention was focused elsewhere (tellingly, the recap montages that play before each of the game’s three acts often fill in crucial blanks). More problematically, some of Hitchcock’s subtle but masterly details have been overlooked by the writers.
In Rear Window, James Stewart plays a photojournalistconfined to a wheelchair with a broken leg. He isat once predisposed to noticing things and hampered, by virtue of his injury, from intervening. In Fire Escape, by contrast, you’re a common snooper, eating pizza on the fire escape, with nothing in the way of backstory or narrative justification for your position or behaviour.
By updating the story to the present day, the inevitable use of mobile phones unhelpfully bridges the chasm between the two buildings. With a phone, youcan interact with the people you’re watching, call for help, even issue instructions to them. Rear Window is, among other things, an exploration of the feeling of profound powerlessness in the face of vital information. Either through design or oversight, Fire Escape misses this crucial point. By supplying you with the power to interfere, the designers rob some of the setup’s inherent power.
Still, while not unsurprisingly falling short of the brilliance of one the 20th century’s greatest films, Fire Escape tells its story with vim and energy, and builds to an exciting climax. The game is especially thrilling when played in virtual reality, when you’re physically placed on the fire escape, and the camera’s focus is fully mapped to the movements of your head.
Fortnite: Prop Hunt
Fortnite: Prop Hunt
(Epic Games; PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, iOS)
According to a recent tweet from the game’s publisher, throughout April people spent more than 3.2bn hours playing Fortnite. For anyone who has, in that time, somehow exhausted the standard modes of play, there’s a riotous and ingenious extracurricular diversion tucked away in the game’s menus. Titled Prop Hunt, this is essentially a game of shapeshifting hide and seek. Hiders first disguise themselves as a prop – anything from a pot plant to a dustbin to a chaise longue. Then the seekers attempt to unmask them with the aid of a regular tell-tale “ping” that signifies the location of their prey. As players are able to freely toddle and leap around while in disguise, scenes of Benny Hill-esque farce are commonplace, as a well-armed hunter chases after a galloping fern, or box of matches. A profoundly different brand of surveillance to that explored by Fire Escape, but one that is full of unending humour and joy.