One area I always find to be largely untapped in video games is prisons. Movies and television shows constantly deal with prison life but rarely do we get to experience prison life in videogames. Sure, games like Fable and Mafia feature stints where the main character spends time in prison but few have you actually spending the entire game in one. Luckily that’s where The Escapists comes in.
The premise of The Escapists is incredibly simple: escape from prison. You take control of a character with the set task of escaping from various facilities, starting with the country club-esque County Perks, a prison with lounge chairs in the courtyard, television sets in cells and tons of free time. Each prison – six in total – ramps up the challenge until you are escaping from maximum security prisons and POW camps.
The path to escape is completely non-linear as The Escapists takes a wonderful sandbox approach to prison life. How and when you escape is completely up to you and the game will go on until you finally do. Of course this is prison so you can’t just spend all day plotting, there is a routine to follow and not following the routine is going to put the guards on high alert.
The first step of each new prison is the puzzle-like aspect of actually planning your escape. There are many options on how to do so in each scenario so figuring out exactly what needs to be done is great fun. Then comes preparation, which naturally takes up the majority of the gameplay. You’re going to need to amass items and tools to help in your escape – prisons aren’t exactly a cornucopia of pickaxes and wire cutters. You’ll need to rely on your fellow inmates for most of the good stuff, whether it’s through trading or stealing.
You can earn money to buy items from various inmates by doing your prison-assigned job or by completing favors for fellow criminals such as acquiring a certain item or beating up a particular convict. You can also raid other prisoner’s personal stashes – as long as you don’t get caught – or you can simply beat up someone who has something you decide that you need. Crafting is required to make anything of real use so expect a simple Minecraft interface where you can combine items together to create something decidedly more useful. Naturally you can play around with the system and try to figure out the recipes on your own but if you’re like me you’ll likely end up on Google to find out how to make that perfect item you’ve been looking for.
The type of items you can create all lead into the various options available for escape and the build up as you get closer and closer to completing your perfect plan is pretty fantastic. There’s definitely a portion of strategy but also a fair amount of luck as sometimes you’ll need a specific item only to be unable to find it. One slight drawback to The Escapists is that there isn’t any way to get crucial contraband items like duct-tape or files without the other prisoners. There will be times where you will know exactly what you need but without any way to get it, you’ll be forced to go through the motions until the next day when all the inmates’ random items reset.
Once you’ve accumulated everything you need, the game is on and it’s time to execute your perfect plan. I won’t lie to you, the first time I escaped I was on the edge of my seat with my heart pumping fast. It is truly a great experience. The game is forgiving enough so that if you do mess up or your plans turns out to be not as perfect as you thought, you can simply restart from the beginning of that day.
One thing that is clearly apparent from the start is that The Escapists has great style. The bright pixel-art turns what would otherwise be a drab, depressing setting (it’s prison after all) and transforms it into an actual lighthearted affair. There’s no voice acting but the small text snippets from the prisoners or guards are cheerful and amusing. The Escapists is also free of the more serious elements from prisons like racism, gang beatings and rape – this isn’t Oz or Orange is the New Black. That type of game wouldn’t necessarily be bad but it’s refreshing to visit prison without having to be super serious or super dark.
Like Andy Dufresne would likely tell you, escaping from prison is about patience and that’s exactly what The Escapists requires . You’re not likely to escape overnight (although it is possible) so you need to make best use of your time while also playing the role of prisoner. The challenge of escaping from each prison is something that will keep you going for hours and hours on end, with nearly unlimited replay value should you decide to revisit each prison to attempt to escape in a different way. The only real downside of The Escapists is that it can be a bit boring and a bit of a slog at times (which you could obviously also say about actual prison). It has a fairly steep learning curve and almost requires you to look up a wiki to figure everything out. With all that being said though, this is still one trip to prison that is worth taking.
SCORE: 8.5 out of 10
A code for The Escapists was provided to Pixel Related for review.