Everyone and everything is monochrome. A flapping flag makes a clunking sound, like the heartbeat of an android. Isometric spaces flash on and off the screen, as characters robo-strut from room to room.
This is The Great Escape, a 1986 Sinclair Spectrum game, re-released today on Steam. It’s a return to a long-gone era of minimalist game design, as required by the limitations of early home computers.
Set in a World War II-era prisoner-of-war camp, The Great Escape represented an innovation in its time, allowing players to inhabit a world of routines and rules, seeking ways to subvert order so that they can flee. It was based on the movie of the same name, though was not officially licensed.
In January of this year, rights to The Great Escape were secured by Piko Interactive, a Houston, Texas-based company devoted to retro gaming. The company spent three years tracking down and negotiating rights for old “Speccy” games, with Atari SA, which had scooped them up as part of mass acquisitions.
Piko is known for releasing new games for old platforms, such as the Nintendo 64 and Atari Jaguar. Now it’s releasing old games for current platforms, like Steam.
The Great Escape was developed in England by a small outfit called Denton Designs. It was published by Ocean Software, a leading British publishing company back in the 1980s, when the Sinclair Spectrum was the go-to games platform in Britain.
Piko’s CEO Eli Galindo told Polygon that he doesn’t expect to make a fortune from these re-releases. But he does believe they’ll “make people happy,” especially those interested in “nostalgia and history.”
Piko’s latest batch of Steam games also includes Denton’s 1988 follow-up to The Great Escape, Where Time Stood Still. There’s also Ocean’s Central Intelligence, Infogrames’ game Mystical and others that offer a look back at an often-forgotten era in game design. The Great Escape is available for Windows PC and currently costs $3.39.