Title: The Escapists
Version Tested: PS4
Where To Buy: Steam, PSN, XBOX Marketplace
The Escapists gives you the chance to break out of prison, just like in the movies, but at a much slower and methodical pace. This can be good and bad depending in the prison your character is held up in, and the way the early game plays out for you. With a multitude of possibilities (and frustrations) to dig your way to freedom, The Escapists is a deep and difficult strategy game under its 8-bit surface.
Doing the Time is Sometimes The Crime
The game gets you started fairly quickly, with a simple character customization screen and a tutorial that teaches you the basics. It’s partially the game’s approach to strategy and discovery, but also added a little confusion to the early-game tasks as the minimalistic tutorial shows you a quick and easy way to escape prison, but nothing more. It briefly reminded me of Don’t Starve, where you also start off knowing very little, but I soon realized it’s a very different game.
While taking the time to survive and craft items are the name of each of the games, The Escapists makes it much more difficult to “gather” the necessary items. Yes, you’re in prison, so the nature of the environment forces the player to manage relationships and sneak around to steal and study your surroundings. I found this to be fairly fun at times, and when my small plan to get a file or screwdriver worked out, it was very rewarding. That feeling you get from accomplishing a certain task feels good, unfortunately, it took multiple tries and honestly a few New Game restarts to really get it right.
On a typical day, your prisoner will attend morning roll call, meals, workout time, and a daily job task (like laundry or janitorial service). All the while there will be favors you can choose to do for the others being held behind bars. These tasks can vary from stealing an item from another inmate’s cell to causing a ruckus at lunchtime to distract the guards. Each complete favor rewards you with a small amount of money and an increased “Opinion” of that particular prisoner. While I liked the idea of this mechanic, the execution and risk didn’t really pay off in most cases. I found the money system to be much less impactful as well. Guards need hundreds of dollars to be bribed, and tips from a pay phone only give out crafting “recipes” at a cost.
I won’t rag on the game too much for that because it did cause me to change my approach and escape plan, which is a good thing. Instead, I managed to gather enough items over a number of days that eventually helped me to become an escapist. After all the time, effort, and trial and error, it did feel quite rewarding to have little 8-bit Dave free of captivity.
I was surprisingly underwhelmed while playing the game. It isn’t a bad game, it’s just not as exciting as I feel it could have been. The slow and steady planning is a neat way to go about a prison break, but it just doesn’t carry the same sense of urgency or excitement. It has a hidden complexity to it that I didn’t expect and was honestly a welcomed surprise, it’s also very difficult. I only managed to escape from two of the many prisons in the game and as I mentioned earlier, that was rewarding. I just did not feel compelled to return to a new facility and try to break out, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue that grind.
If you’re looking for a throw-back, non-hand-holding approach to a strategy game, The Escapists will fit that bill just fine. For myself, I found its somewhat clunky and unforgiving gameplay to be a bit too much.
- Graphics: The throwback 8-bit aesthetic is wearing a little thin, but it is done fairly well here.
- Gameplay: Unforgiving, but also unique. Clunky at times and with a very thin tutorial to start things off.
- Sound: The music was really fun. Sound effects are basic 8-bit “beeps and boops.”
- Presentation: It looks fine, nothing too striking. The player is left out to dry after a far too brief tutorial and the surroundings and NPCs aren’t a huge help either.
- surprisingly deep gameplay
- it feels pretty darn good once you escape
- far too unforgiving at times
- managing relationships with other prisoners and guards isn't all that fun
- tutorial is far too brief
- getting "busted" in the middle of a plan happens far too easily