The Escapists, a prison-escape game available on PC and Xbox One, casts you as a criminal who’s been locked up and is trying to taste freedom once more. It’s kind of like that time when Popzara’s managing editor tried to get me to review every shovelware game ever released for the Wii as part of a feature article. As far as I know he’s still got that burlap-sack dummy I left behind sitting in front of a keyboard and none the wiser. Er, anyway, about the Escapists…
First and foremost, prison life isn’t exactly Heaven. Shocking, I know. Your goal, of course, is to break out any way you can, and you’re free to develop and execute your own escape plans. This is complicated in a number of ways: your day is strictly scheduled, you’ve got a prison job to work at and you’ll have to manage relationships with both the guards and the other inmates. The latter is key to your success, since cons are the main source of the items you’ll need to make your getaway. Doing favors for other inmates and generally being social will eaten you money and endear you to them, but you need to stay on top of your relationships, as inmates are more than happy to beat you up at the drop of a hat if they don’t like you. Naturally, if a guard catches you breaking any prison rules, he’ll usually do the same.
A good escapist keeps themselves in top shape, so you’ll need to build your stats while you’re doing time. Exercising will boost your strength, improving your combat abilities, and your speed, allowing you to get around faster. You can also study books or the Internet to gain intelligence, which improves your crafting abilities and lets you take more complex prison jobs, which may offer items you’ll want to sneak out of the work area. Getting beaten up results in a stat drop and the loss of your contraband, so it’s something to avoid.
You can’t just escape with your bare hands and hard work, of course. You’re going to need tools of all kinds, like files, shovels and braces to keep your escape tunnels from collapsing on themselves. The Escapists features a fairly simple crafting system where you can combine materials to make finished products, though you’ll need to trade with other inmates to get “crafting notes” that unlock recipes. You’ll also need to be careful with what you choose to carry around – plenty of items are contraband in prison, after all, and getting caught with contraband usually ends with a confiscation and beating. You can usually store items in your cell, but every day a couple prisoners have their cells searched, and you’re not going to be so lucky as to avoid a search forever…
The prisons start off easy enough; in fact, the introductory pen, obviously some sort of federal prison, is so soft that it includes cable TV, gourmet cooking and subservient guards! As you progress through the list of lockups, though, the situation becomes more and more dire, including an open-air work camp that will put your con through the wringer. Don’t let the cushy federal pen you start off in give you the wrong idea, because this game is tough.
Presentation is your standard indie game pixel art, nothing new there. Everything is clean and clear and you won’t have any trouble figuring out what something is. There isn’t really anything to complain about unless you’re sick to death of indie game pixel art. you probably are. The sound is equally tolerable, but this game really shines as a game more than an aesthetic masterpiece.
If you’re up for something different, The Escapists offers a unique concept that you can’t get pretty much anywhere else. While daily prison life might get a little tedious, well…it’s prison, it’s not meant to be a vacation! Working out myriad ways to escape and learning to survive on the inside make The Escapists a good time to be had by all, not just hardened criminals or burlap-sack dummies.