Interstellar Police: Escape Stal' Prison

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Closer Look: Interstellar Police: Escape Stal' Prison

What sounds like an action game reveals itself to be a game of caution and suspense, until the tension is quickly diffused

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Feb 20, 2023
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The Big Reveal

Spoilers for the truth of what happened on this ship as well as the game's ending below.

Once Sullo has made it through the laser trap, the true villain responsible for all the killings announces themselves over the ship's communications. They don't reveal who they are, only opting to praise Sullo for making it this far. The praise is short lived, as the villain makes it quite clear that Sullo will not make it off the ship alive. From here on out, the villain (there's no better name for them) dedicates the rest of the game to trying to kill Sullo in one of his many traps, refusing to leave the ship until everyone else aboard is dead.

With the threat now explicit, the tension is removed. Players no longer have a sense of mystery and dread, instead focusing on just getting through a few more boards without being killed. The danger of dying is still there, but now it's on the level of falling into a pit in a platformer. It's not scary. It's to be expected.


The remaining traps aren't that good either. There's the knife room mentioned in passing earlier, which leading up to it the only trap in the game that isn't necessarily fatal. The hallway leading to the knife room contains a few rows of objects that shoot bullets at fixed intervals. The hallway is so narrow that players are either shot immediately or cross safely, using gaps between the guns to wait for the next opportunity to proceed. To Bob's credit, since the hall is just a single tile wide, the timing of when to cross relies more on the audio cue of objects shooting bullets than the usual method of timing your movements to coincide with gaps in the bullet pattern. Only for the briefest flicker can you maybe catch a glimpse of a bullet while it still exists on screen.


And well, that's really the only thing left to discuss in terms of gameplay. Upon crossing the knife room successfully the player is taken to a cut-scene with one final trap. Bob uses a view of the next hallway shown from two perspectives, a side-view framed around Sullo and an odd spot of light on the ground in close-up, with what's perhaps a monitor being viewed by the assailant on the other side. An elaborate cross-hair makes an otherwise drab gray board a little more pleasant to look at. Sullo instantly recognizes the light as suspicious, with a prompt appearing for players to throw their stick at the light.


Assuming they of course did pick up a single stick from a blown up wooden door earlier.

Annoyingly, this is one of those games with asks players to double-touch items, once for a description, and then a second time for the prompt to pick them up. I always find it makes it very easy to accidentally miss items, especially ones that might not seem to be likely collectibles. Though I might not be a fan, Bob admittedly implements the system well here. Sullo's opening escape from his cell requires players to interact with things multiple times, and since this is the very first gameplay board, it was enough to put me in the head-space that touching objects again would be something to get in the habit of doing. It's a stealth tutorial to train players on how to interact with the world, so for once in my life, I did not have to run all the way back to the start of the game or cheat the flag in.[1]


It turns out that throwing a stick isn't really a well thought out plan. Sullo has already seen the tremendous damage the villain's explosive devices have been able to do to the ship, being a short distance from the center of the explosion isn't going to let him survive unscathed. Bob gives players their first look at Sullo beyond a smiley face, lying unconscious and bleeding from a head wound after still being caught in the bomb's blast. The player loses a fixed forty health from the explosion which determines whether or not they'll be able to survive and wake up. This provides an opportunity for the bullet trap to make an impact on Sullo's survival, but in order to actually die here you'd have to get hit multiple times by multiple guns, a near impossibility that can be prevented just by holding up and not caring about the guns whatsoever.


I'm a big fan of little stars that appear above Sullo's head as he slowly regains consciousness. It takes a moment, but he finally pieces together what must have went down on the ship. The villain executed their own escape attempt, (explaining the one accessible cell that was completely opened,) and they did quite a good job of it. However, due to the stress of what he suffered at the hands of the Skÿrc, he lost control of his senses and began to kill everyone, not just his captors and tormentors. The other human victims found on the ship were his partners in the escape plan that he eventually turned on and killed as well.

Sullo's ignorance of the whole thing remains unexplored entirely. One of the prisoners had life support turned off in their cell and was suffocated, but Sullo was never acknowledged as a potential ally to escape with, or as another soul that had to die. He only drew the villain's ire by uncovering the bodies and knowing too much.

Granted, the angle of "oh he was crazy" makes it easy to explain any inconsistencies in his killings.


As for Sullo, he has no idea if the villain remains on the ship, or if he hopefully left under the reasonable assumption that the explosive being set off meant that Sullo was no longer a threat. Despite the big kaboom, and time spent unconscious there's no reason to for Sullo to be confident in his safety just yet...


A final attempt at reclaiming some of the tension Interstellar Police lost is made. Bob has the player begin traversing the ship in reverse, with Sullo noting small changes. Some rooms are now without power, security lasers have been turned off, and there are still sounds coming from elsewhere. Is this a return to form at the last minute? Or is it merely going to be short lived?


Things seem to be looking up as the ship has landed on Earth. Sullo's own escape may be a success after all.


Heading to the upper deck, one of the bodies is no longer there, and the entire area is spotless. Weird.


Another human!

It's the cleanup crew for this disaster! Wherever the villain may have gone, he's no longer aboard the ship.

NASA guy : WHAAAH!! All this mess!!
NASA guy : Now....-sigh-...tell me..

NASA guy : What did happen on this ship?

You : .....well...let's start from the
You : you might know,
You : I was sent by NASA as a spy
You : to the planet of the Skÿrc.

NASA guy : Yes, I know about the
NASA guy : mission. You and 4
NASA guy : others were send as spies
NASA guy : to that planet.

You : 4 others? I didn't know about
You : them. But I, and apparently the
You : others too, were seized and
You : brought to this ship..

You : One of the other humans escaped
You : together with some others..

You : They went on a killing rage
You : throughout the ship. But one of them
You : went crazy and killed the others
You : and I was his next victim..

NASA guy : How did you survive?!

You : Well...he had me kind of trapped
You : in the lower part of the ship...
You : of course, I had to look for an exit
You : but he had a lot of traps set up
You : I got past most of them..but one,
You : some sort of security device,
an alarm toggled to a laser detonator..

You : Luckily, I didn't trust it and
You : I threw something at the place
You : That toggled the alarm... I was
You : blown away and got hurt pretty
You : bad, but I wasn't standing in the
You : direct explosion... The escape's 1st
You : goal was to get back to earth. The
You : ship's autopilot was set for earth
You : and when that guy left the ship,
You : he didn't turn it off..

NASA guy : And that's why you're here!

First of all, I love that this is a NASA operation so much.

The player finally gets the full story from Sullo's recap with the guy from NASA. All of the humans on the prison ship were spies sent from Earth that had been captured. Sullo was just working alone rather than in a team explaining why he wasn't invited to the escape plans as the others were unaware he was even on board. One of the trio turned on the others in his madness, resulting in the killings of the rest of the spy party, and upon learning that Sullo was also there, he became the next target.

Now, this says nothing about what actually happened to the villain responsible for killing a lot of Skÿrc and two humans. Presumably, he's still out there, though with the ship crash landing in such an icy climate, he might not get very far. Still, it's left as something ambiguous, serving as potential fodder for a sequel no doubt.


Sullo is evacuated from the ship via helicopter and flown to a hospital to recover from his significant injuries. Some nice art boards are used to close out the game, particularly the shot of Sullo resting against the ship, bloodied and with his clothes in tatters. You can just tell that Sullo has never felt more relaxed in his life than he does right at that moment.


Sullo's ending is a happy one. Despite being a spy, he gets to run rounds on the media circuit where his story makes him a celebrity for a bit before he returns back to the I.P.R.T. finding success once more as a ~good space cop~[2]. A traditional idyllic cishetero life follows, but you know, this guy could do with a little less stress in his life honestly.


While he can at least. The years that pass between Sullo's escape and his call from NASA make it unlikely for the planned sequel to focus on what happened to the villain here. Yet even without his presence, there are still plenty of options for a sequel. The entire reason Sullo was taken prisoner to begin with was so he can do some info gathering on the Skÿrc. The threat they pose to the federation doesn't change over the course of the game's events, and intergalactic-relations probably aren't faring any better after a Skÿrc ship was hijacked by humans, all Skÿrc aboard killed, and then the vessel crashing on Earth. Admittedly, I don't think Skÿrc are the type to be talked out of a war in the first place, so it likely didn't change their plans all that much.

Sullo could be called for another mission on Skÿriac, hopefully more successful, or honestly just about anything. The background with the I.P.R.T. and other abbreviations make it easy to place Sullo in any sort of sci-fi scenario. His generic space cop adventures post-escape and pre-retirement would do the job just fine, let alone whatever NASA is ringing him up over.

Interstellar Police actually includes a hidden preview board for the never completed sequel, Interstellar Police 2: Back to the Team. It offers no real clues, only promising better graphics, music, and a storyline divided up into chapters. Nothing particularly helpful. Looking at Interactive Fantasies magazine releases of the era provides no additional insight either, though iFantasy 10 includes a review of the first game written by Hydra78 which praises it for its atmosphere and how it deviates from the usual "escape the cell" style of gameplay. So it seems like we've got a second opinion here in support of my own.

Final Thoughts


While Interstellar Police isn't an absolute must-play, it is a pretty unique experience and overall a cool little take on some very familiar ground for ZZT worlds. Bob impresses in a number of ways throughout the game, with a strong opening, and very brief return to that level after setting off the villain's last trap. There really is a great sense of foreboding as you slowly guide Sullo across the ship. It's atmospheric in a way few ZZT worlds of the era are. The scenario of everybody being dead except for Sullo who is trying to figure out how much danger he's really in is handled really well for the time. The game's background of intergalactic war and undercover work puts up a facade that lures players in to a situation very much unlike the expectations. If anything, Interstellar Police should be compared to myth's 24 Hours of ZZT winning game Nightplanet with the addition of a bait-and-switch to truly catch players off guard.

The game ends up being a breeze to play, even with its few moments of sudden death and other nasty surprises. The mostly linear traversal of the ship keeps the game feeling snappy, letting players focus on figuring out the mystery of the events that preceded Sullo's escape rather than trying to remember what places were inaccessible or may have opened up after completing a puzzle. Those who are fond of puzzle solving and open ended exploration may feel a different kind of bait-and-switch upon realizing that these aspects of the game, while present, are very light at best. For a more ironic comparison to Nightplanet, Bob's title also feels like a 24 Hours of ZZT game. It's very snappy and meets the basic requirements, but never really goes into detail. While the descriptions of Sullo's investigation work do get some love it comes at the expense of the player getting involved themselves. Sullo does the analysis far more frequently than players are given the chance to make connections themselves. It makes for a game that keeps moving forward at all costs at the expense of really getting to enjoy the atmosphere the game brings.


The revelation of the person responsible is handled poorly, sucking out all the fun of the mystery aspect of the game and replacing it with some traps to survive which are bland puzzles "Opening this door releases gas. Are you wearing a gas mask Y/N?" or the slider puzzle and blink walls which while well made, feel out of place with the style of the rest of the game. There's little for players to engage with after the villain makes themselves known. At least the final climb back to the upper decks briefly rekindles the fires of suspense before that too quickly gives way for the end of the game.

The larger story of Interstellar Police has next to no impact on the events of the game other than as a reason for Sullo and the other humans to be on the ship. The amount of background for something that doesn't matter may help in the false expectations players have, yet I don't think it needed to go so far. It amounts to little more than a few screens of text to read through at the beginning, and potentially grounding for a sequel that never happened. It's all just kind of there rather than anything meaningful.

One last thing to bring up, is that this game is yet another instance of an Interactive Fantasies releases that turned out not to be the original release recently seen with some of their Super ZZT worlds Fantasy of Freedom and The Search For The Lost Dog. The original version of the was added to the Museum at the end of 2021, and features the usual IF update changes of graphical and text tweaks, and in this instance an extended ending. It also includes its own hidden board depicting the original idea for the game which is Wolfenstein in Space, something that would have made the game a far more traditional ZZT sci-fi action title. Overall, I think Bob made the right call to do something different.

Had Interstellar Police been an action game of this size, I think my praise for the game would be far more subdued. I've played plenty of ZZT action games, and one more on the pile isn't nearly as compelling as going for the suspenseful atmosphere Bob builds up in the finished product, even if that atmosphere doesn't last for the game's full duration. Instead, Bob has made a pretty unique game, that while it has room for improvement, feels different enough that I'd be willing to recommended checking it out yourself. It's not an overlooked classic, but it is a solid attempt at taking ZZT in a different direction, even if the road it travels instead is a bit bumpy.

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