by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
The Shawshank Redemption was right, you know: escaping from prison is hard. I know because I spent a couple of days trying to escape from several of them. The Escapists is a game from Mouldy Toof Studios (in reality, just one man, Chris Davis), and published by Team 17. It’s a prison break game, but there are no set paths to follow; it’s a complete sandbox. You start in a cell, and then however you escape is up to you.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to do so, and each of the six prisons in the game has separate tactics which you can employ. Center Perks is, as you might expect if you’ve ever visited Center Parcs in England, more like a holiday resort than a prison. The prisoners get nice meals, and they even get their own TV in their rooms. However, there’s nothing like the sweet taste of freedom. It’s the easiest prison to escape from, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the Perk... Parc... park.
It’s advisable to play the tutorial first, but it doesn’t help you out a great deal, and is one of the few weaknesses of the game. It teaches you a basic way of escaping, but everything is super simplified compared to what the actual game is like. Vents are already open for you when in reality they’d take time to open with fashioned utensils. You don’t really get a sense of how the trading and mission systems work, you don’t learn much about prison jobs, or much about your stamina and suspicion meter.
In at the deep end
What this means is that you’re very much thrown in at the deep end, and it will take a lot of experimentation before you start to work things out. It’s very much like Minecraft in this way: it’s easy to be lost under the sheer weight of everything you can do at the start. And, much like with Minecraft, I would highly advise playing with the Wiki open. Crafting is largely intuitive, but it’s knowing what you can do, not how you do it, that’s the roadblock.
For example, of course filing a plastic comb against a wall into a point fashions a makeshift shiv, but I wouldn’t have thought to have tried that without reading it first. The fact that you can craft things outside of the crafting menu was just something I didn’t expect. However, once you do figure out all of your possibilities, there is a whole world of escape artistry to explore.
A simple escape method would be to knock out the guard who has the key, take it, and run out the front door. But guards are tough, and you aren’t, so you’ll probably have to bulk up in the gym a bit first. Or befriend one of your fellow inmates and get him to fight by your side. Or do some jobs to get some money in order to buy a weapon or some hidden armour off one of the sellers. Of course, tactics like this won’t fly in the higher security prisons. That’s where you need to get more creative.
Using a plastic spoon smuggled out of the canteen, you might start digging a tunnel. Guards will notice holes though, so you’ll have to get a poster or something to cover it up. Obviously a plastic spoon isn’t going to make much of a dent either, so maybe you’ll have to create something better for the job. Maybe you could get a prison job in the Metal Shop and sneak out a bit of metal. Combine it with a tool handle and some duct tape and you’ve got yourself a handy shovel.
But, not any old inmate knows how to do this. In order to unlock more crafting options, you’ll need to smarten up a bit. Read a book or browse the Internet in your free time and you’ll start to gain some more knowledge. Being smarter than the average criminal will also prove to the warden that you’re able to take on more lucrative jobs, earning you more money and more importantly, access to better items.
It’s remarkable how in depth and intricate things can get. Especially when you form some wrong first impressions by looking at the game. The art style is super simple, it has a retro style, with characters running in place even when they’re not moving. You might be forgiven for thinking this is a basic game that you can complete in a couple of hours. However, it is definitely not, and it becomes blindingly obvious just how fiendish the difficulty can be in the harder prisons. Security cameras watch your every move and your margins for error become smaller and smaller.
I could go on about the various systems and how they all link together, but it will be much more exciting to try them out for yourself. With six prisons, ten prison jobs, plenty of NPCs to interact with and over a hundred items to discover and craft, there really is a lot of stuff going on for a very reasonable price. If you’re not afraid of a little experimentation, then it would be a crime to not check out The Escapists.
Remarkable depth, a great deal of gameplay options
Tutorial could be stronger