Join or die

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Entertainment,Ryan Vogt

Immersive like a book, reactive like a video game, "Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward" tells one of the best stories in any medium this year, made more engrossing in that you help tell it.

Like a version of "Lost" written by Agatha Christie, it drops your character into an inexplicable setting, surrounded by strangers. And then people start to die.

The game starts when you wake up in an elevator next to a stranger. A cartoon bunny comes on a screen in the elevator, warning you that if you don't figure out how to escape, the elevator will drop. What you see around you when you make it out of the elevator is, to say the least, not what you expected.

For one thing, there are eight other people stuck with you, from an old man to a little kid to a figure in a mask and body armor who looks like C-3PO as a Tibetan monk. For another, the cartoon bunny shows up in a projection on the wall, informing you that the facility's exit, a door marked with a big 9, will only open once, for nine seconds, and you can work as a group to escape together, or you can betray each other to leave alone, trapping the rest. Oh, and one more thing: One of the nine of you is behind it all.

'Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward'
» System: 3DS, Vita
» Price: $39.99
» Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The game alternates between two phases -- "escape" sequences when several of you are put in a room and must figure out how to leave it, and "novel" sequences, which tell the story with great voice acting and ask you to make some crucial choices. As much fun as the point-and-click puzzles in the "escape" sequences are, it's the "novel" sequences that are the game's emotional crux.

It is here that "Zero Escape" presents a variation of the prisoner's dilemma. You are forced to square off against another person in the group, both of you choosing "ally" or "betray" by secret ballot. If both parties choose "ally," both are that much closer to escaping; if one chooses "ally" and the other chooses "betray," the traitor is greatly aided at the expense of the naive; and if both choose "betray," nothing happens.

There are numerous endings, and, happily, the game supplies a clearly laid-out decision tree that lets you jump back wherever you want in the story to play a different way, discovering what would have happened if you had made different choices.

If you're somebody who appreciates a good story, and doesn't mind being scared, there's zero escape on the market quite like "Zero Escape."

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Author:

Ryan Vogt

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner