I may have the appearance of a clean cut stand up British citizen but I’ve seen my fair share of prisons. I’ve been done numerous times for murdering innocent bystanders, conspiring against the monarchy and this one time I was caught stealing a court guard’s sweet roll, so doing time is something I’m pretty used to. The usual method that I’ve applied when attempting a break out have often involved the death of hundreds of loyal employees on minimum wage, sometimes in a stealthy manner with what tools I could find, or more satisfyingly, stealing a firearm and mowing down anyone in my path. I must say however for my latest sentence I’ve been placed in an actual secure facility with clever security guards that actually pay attention to their surroundings, as if they’re trying to make it difficult to escape. Wait is that a security blind spot? What will this duct tape help me create? What if I bleach my inmate uniform? Looks like we escapists will be a while!
The Escapists is a unique sand box strategy game from the one man team of Chris Davis and published by Team 17. Releasing almost a year ago on Steam early access, The Escapists finally sees its official launch on PS4, XB1 and Steam. Though what initially sounds like a simple task considering other games that have featured prison based missions, The Escapists is all about striking at the right time and using what you can find to your advantage, making it much more difficult and presumably relatable to breaking out of an actual prison. Following the prison’s strict regime day by day will not only put you in the guard’s good books, but you’ll begin to see flaws in security and opportunities that’ll have you finding freedom anywhere between 3 and 30 days, it’s all about executing at the perfect moment. Accepting missions for inmates will put you in their favour but you’ll be enemies with others, trading and buying seemingly random/pointless items will be the key to your escape with the truly bizarre crafting system that’ll see you creating toxic knock out gas with hot chocolate. Featuring a great number of various prisons increasing in brutal difficulty, you’re literally in for a hard time with The Escapists, but does it turn prison to an enjoyable playground? For most parts yes, but honestly I didn’t think escaping would be this frustrating.
The Escapists is a very clever game that will require you to think a lot outside of the box in order to even begin planning your escape, however it doesn’t come without its insane difficulty and frustrating AI that can cause you to rage quit if things don’t go exactly to plan. After a very brief but helpful tutorial you are given the basic controls and a vague idea of how you need to escape, but afterwards you are completely on your own without any assistance. It’s up to you to do whatever you want with it being a sandbox title, however for the first day or 2 I didn’t really know what I was expected to do, and it wasn’t until I referred to a beginners guide to the game that I gained a better understanding of things I could do. From following the prison schedule you are given 2 windows for exploration where security isn’t so tight, so by sticking to those free periods will give you the perfect time to rummage through your inmates desks to find innate objects. It’s one thing to find these items but if you don’t know what to do with them then you may as well leave them be which is where the game’s crafting comes into play. When I said you need to think outside of the box I cannot strain that enough as many of the combinations needed to craft helpful tools are completely farfetched, clever, but farfetched. Creating weaponry is fairly straightforward, a sock and a bar of soap make a handy sock mace, or combining a broken comb and a razor blade makes a nifty shiv, however when creating more useful tools for breaking out you’ll find yourself scratching your head at how talcum powder, batteries and magazines can aid you. In each prison you’ll find the gym which will raise your strength, health and speed, all essential for that perfect escape, however what isn’t obvious is that you are required to work on your intelligence to craft items, so it was very annoying to train on that for a few days after pulling of numerous missions for inmates and stressful cell ransacks. Once you’ve gained a deeper understanding of how The Escapists works you’ll begin to really enjoy the challenge of observing your surroundings and really thinking about the easiest and most strategic route of escape.
Your success in The Escapists comes from trial and error, plan a plausible escape route, see if it works and if it doesn’t, you’ll go to solitary confinement, have all your items removed and try again tomorrow. What you have to remember is that the AI of the guards is rather high and you’ll notice this rather quickly once you start chipping away at their security, it’s all well and good cutting away a fence panel but if you haven’t got a fake one to replace it with then they’ll tell you that and it’s off to the chokey! The brutal difficulty of genuinely fooling the guards is great to see in a game which requires to get out of prison in the coolest and most hassle free way, so despite the ruthless AI it does make for a highly enjoyable experience, but it doesn’t come without idiotic NPCs ruining it for you. Accepting missions from your fellow cell mates usually means either stealing an item from someone else or beating them up, you gain favour with them but you become a target for the others, which will often cause them to attack you every time they see you. Though they don’t put up much of a fight, they’ll always attract the guards to you and most of the time they’ll beat you up too and send you to the infirmary, meaning every valuable item you’ve been searching for during the course of the week has been taken, making all your efforts to that point completely worthless; you could find a week’s worth of work going to waste for something that isn’t your fault, which did make me put the controller down in a huff quite a lot.
Along with its adorable, retro visuals, The Escapists is a really great accomplishment that actually puts a game in the same league as the theme/setting it’s trying to mimic. Taking inspiration from some of the world’s greatest prison stories (The Shawshank hole behind the poster for example), The Escapists is a challenging, stressful but all round enjoyable prison break simulator that’ll require you to think a lot outside the box to get outside the box. The AI of the game’s NPCs is refreshing to say the least which makes the task at hand more difficult to complete right off the bat, giving the game a good degree of longevity. The difficult AI does supply a huge amount of annoyance with it also that’ll see you loading up a previous save file a bit too often, and the lack of any real help or guidance from the start will leave you lost and clueless before the game has even begun. The Escapists is a really great game once you’ve understood exactly what you have to do so I advise all who wish to try it out to perhaps consult an online guide beforehand as not everything is as obvious as you’d hope. Taking a whole new approach to breaking out of prison in regards to other video game examples, The Escapists is the first detention centre I’ll be visiting time and time again, especially seeing I’ve just downloaded the ’Alcatraz’ DLC, what wonders await me there?
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.