The Escapists is the prison breaking game from Mouldy Toof Studios and Team 17. The game has the player controlling a prison inmate in order to escape from prison, using nothing but their wits and the resources available to them during their tenure at the prison. We have also previously Previewed the title. Check that out here.
Unlike most games, The Escapists doesn’t really have a strong and compelling storyline to push the player through the game. Instead, it leaves the reason that you’re in the prison vague and focuses almost entirely on the prison breaking aspect of the game. One could say that it’s up to the player to reason to themselves why it is that they’re in the prison, should they be strong enough role-players for it to matter.
The Escapists features a variety of prisons for the player to escape from, with each posing its own particular puzzle and requiring the player to actually plan ahead and adapt their plans when they fail. Starting a game will run the player through a tutorial level that will teach them the basics by running them through a misleadingly easy prison. From here, players unlock new prisons each time they finish one, in a sequential progression with prisons getting harder and more complicated as they go. Interestingly, the player can assume the role of one of the prisoners in the prison, which can also be a help or a hindrance due to the cells location and the like.
To escape from prison, players must use the layouts, routines and items of the prison in order to devise a cunning plan to break out without being caught. This can be a very tricky, and sometimes, time-consuming prospect. The reason for this is that the resources available to a prisoner are often times not enough to get them out on the first day. Because of this it becomes quite easy to develop a ‘wait and hope’ approach to the game. This approach is just as it sounds, where you’re waiting for a particular piece of contraband to spawn in the prison over the course of your tenure, because your plan rests solely on this one item to complete your improvised shovel. Most prisons do have lockers laying around, which require some level of espionage to reach, and they tend to be troves of useful items. However, getting to them can require the ‘wait and hope’ approach.
As we alluded to with the shovel, players are able to craft items to assists in their escape from the prison. Throughout their time at the prison, the player will find and/or buy various crafting recipes to show them how to build some items. However, you do not need these recipes in order to construct items. The process of building a shovel will always be the same, just as the process of building a shank will always be the same. Roleplaying players might want to stick to their recipes, but for most players, I think we’re enterprising enough to look online.
To get these items, players will have to steal them, or buy them from other characters if they happen to selling them. Stealing items is easy enough, all you need to do is go into another characters cell and use their locker. Once you’ve opened the locker, you can simply just take what you want and add it to your inventory. Of course, you can only carry 6 items at one time, plus one weapon to hold in your hands. Players are also given a locker in their cells to hold onto their belongings as well.
Players might be interested in stashing all of their illegal goods in their locker until the right moment to spring an escape, and this would be a pretty good idea. However, at morning and late-night roll-calls, inmates are randomly chosen to have their cells searched. If the players is chosen, then they’ll more than likely lose all of their illegal items in a few minutes after the announcement. One of the ways I found around this was to hold onto your illegal items, or to simply stash them in someone elses cell until they were needed. However, this approach may impede players from using the items they need one night, pushing their progress back another day.
The Escapists prisons run on a schedule. There is a constant day and night cycle in play where the player is required to do certain things throughout the day during their time in prison. This could be roll-call, meal time, free time, meal time, work time, workout time, meal time, free time, roll-call and sleep time. How you utilise these schedules can be good for working out your plan. For example, late night it becomes hard to see so guard towers wont shoot you from a distance, but there might be a time of the day where a certain area is less guarded, and thus, easier to break into/out of, leading to loot or freedom.
Escaping prison is usually done in a few ways. These include digging to safety, taking a boat to safety and even walking right out of the front door. Most of the time there is no one right to break out, but there is definitely an easier way than others method. Sometimes the easiest method is the brute-force method of trying every method, while other times it’s the super-ninja route of breaking into vents and digging out. Sometimes you might need to knock out a guard, steal his key and then make a duplicate key using a mold. Or you could hold onto the key and hope that you don’t get caught with it.
Sometimes a level can take a very long time to complete, while other times they can be very short. I’ve found that this mostly comes down to luck in drops. There is also a bit of time investment as well, as you’ll need to have your character meet certain levels of fitness in order to craft or use some items, as well as getting into some jobs. It’s mostly in the players best interests to do fitness activities in every free time period that they have, as well as surfing the internet on the computer to build intelligence. The player stats do decay after a little while as well, and it becomes incredibly comfy in jail, with the more time you spend in there, the less likely you’ll feel like you want to break out. This is despite the main objective of the game being breaking out of prison.
One of the things I really enjoyed with The Escapists is the amount of humour and charm put into the 2D prison break simulator. The guards and inmates are almost stereotypically prison-esque, but it always feels lighthearted and never like you’re in any real danger. Each of the prisoners and guards feel so inviting and humourous that maybe you just want to stay in the prison, because you’re clearly there for a reason and it’s simply more comfy living in your new prisoner life. The only downside to this humour is that it sometimes crosses into the cringeworthy Reddit-tier humour that stops being funny before you leave highschool. Quite often you’ll overhear guards and inmates letting out text acronyms like they’re actual words, which was never funny, or cool.
Visually, The Escapists runs on a 2D engine using sprites and tiles to generate the world. Each map is predesigned, so there’s none of this procedural stuff. It’s quite nice when the visuals of a game match the feeling of the game and The Escapists does just this. It’s a very comfortable game involving a potentially dangerous topic, but the visual style carries the comfort along. I wonder if this game would have felt the same using a 3D engine? Probably not. It works, and it works well.
Overall, The Escapists is a very interesting game about breaking out of prison. It is pretty challenging and tests the players abilities to adaptively learn, plan and execute new ideas successfully. It’s pretty rare to have a game that does, while also doing it in a way that’s satisfying, comfortable and keeping you wanting to play just a bit longer.
The Escapists is developed by Mouldy Toof Studios and is published by Team 17. This review is based on the PC release of the game. There will also be an Xbox One release of the title as well. The review code was sent to us by Team 17 for reviewing purposes. The Escapists releases on Friday. It can be purchased on Steam for ~$15.