The Escapists Review
Mouldy Toof Studios teamed up with Team 17 for The Escapists (originally released on the PC) and in terms of gameplay the latter provides a sandbox experience inspired by the likes of Prison Break (one of my favourite TV series); with the objective being to escape from each of the six available prisons (each prison being progressively harder to break out of).
Graphically the game has a retro feel as the overhead 2D view features blocky characters and environments (with text used for speech prompts). However with matching retro sound effects, subtle text based humour and a brilliant musical score (for added atmosphere) I feel the retro style suits the gameplay down to a tea! Speaking of which The Escapists has fun gameplay in spades!
Learning prison life
Before you start the first prison (the remaining five are locked until you escape the previous prison) you get to rename all of the characters in the game. So for example if I wanted to I could add all the names from Prison Break, such as give a fellow con the name Tea Bag etc. Then, once you head Into the game each cell and con will be labelled with your custom name(s).
However before you fully start the first prison you get a simple tutorial level to begin with which takes the form of a dream sequence and this teaches some of the basic options of accessing your inventory, selecting/combining items (more on this later) and busting out.
When you wake-up you are now in the game for real, with the first - seemingly easy - prison to break out from taking me an embarrassing 7 hours of real-life gameplay to get through!
Learning the routines
You see despite the retro feel the gameplay fun comes from how you break out from the prison - as there are multiple ways to do it!
This requires patience as you learn how each prison is run. Thus I spent a fair few hours simply playing by the rules....
For example prison life is governed by bells which direct you to each activity, so one may require that you head to roll call, while another will direct you to breakfast, dinner, free time, exercise time, showers (which recover stealth) and jobs.
I found playing by the rules also allowed me to learn how the game mechanics work, such as eating/sleeping will restore stamina, while exercising (which provides a fun interactive element - 'Daley Thompson' style - as you need to press the left and right triggers quickly to perform exercises) can be used to build up your strength and make you run faster; useful for out-running fellow cons or guards.
I then started to use my free time to see what else was possible in the game and from here you can sneak into fellow con’s rooms and nab stuff from their desk - before storing it in your own...
The desk is basically where most of your items are stored (as your pockets are limited). However some items are labelled green, for legal and others red, for illegal (more about these in a moment). Additionally items may have a Tool/Component title.
You see getting hold of items allows your to use your crafting system to make new tools. The latter can then be used to help in your escape!
Crafting is more a case of experimenting (by combining these items), but to help with this you can use the in-game payphone system to call for help - which simply gives you ideas of how items can be combined to make new items. There are also tips that could provide ideas for future escapes. Mind you the help system never tells you exactly how the items can be used to make your escape, so this offers a good comprise.
However accessing these tips requires money and the game provides a few options for making and utilising the money you earn. For a start you get several jobs, such as working in the laundry room or sweeping floors.
In the laundry job - for arguments sake - you need to take a dirty prison guard uniform and stick this in the washer, before depositing the clean and dry outfit in the completed box. Once your quota has been met (indicated by a yellow progress bar) this earns you money. But then you start to think, "Hang on a minute, I wonder if I could use the prison guard outfit for something else?"....
Apply for New Jobs
You do get a job board for applying for these jobs, but what happens if Joe Blogs has the metal workshop job that you want? How do you apply for this when you already have a job? Simple really, when you learn how, as you can knock out Joe Blogs during his own job shift - so he misses his Job Quota - and then you can apply! This is a small example of the dynamics that the game offers, everything has a purpose in The Escapists and it's why the early stages take time to work through; but it's vital for learning the ropes!
Once you have the money you can then find fellow cons with a money bag symbol on their head and buy items from them (weapons, duck tape, screw driver, that sort of thing).
Money can also be used to bribe fellow cons to make them like you! Again this has a potential useful side effect if they get really buddy buddy with you – more on this in a moment.
The problem I had in the early stages of playing The Escapists was the initial control system took me a while to master. For example I found by default your quick inventory selection toolbar is highlighted on your fist symbol, which means a press of the X button - which is also used to interactive with objects/items - is utilised.
I was then accidentally hitting my fellow inmates instead of trying to pick up, say a plate of food, or interact with them, and this caused a fight! So in the early days I was repeatedly sent to the medical ward! However attack someone too much and they will instantly attack you on-sight and this could potentially cause problems with your escape plans!
Also if a con does not like you he wont sell any of his wares, which could be a nightmare if you happen to need an item. It took me a while to learn how to combat this negative effect....
Beefing yourself up in the exercise room certainly helps, as you have more life in which to protect yourself. Or you can combine or find regular items and use these as weapons – which also helps.
Alternatively if the latter con can be approached quickly enough - during the buying phase - you can give them money to make them like you more (a progress bar shows how much they like you).
An alternative way of making them like you is by completing tasks for them. These can consist of beating up a fellow con, taking items from an exiting con’s cell or distracting guards - so an inmate can carry out some snooping of their own.
Again having a con like you offers more modes of gameplay, because if you build up the 'like meter' to full they can start to follow you and then be instructed to beat up fellow inmates or guards! This again could be used as a handy escape tool, perhaps!
All of this showcases that each action has a purpose and learning the basic mechanics will eventually progress you to the next stage...yep planning your escapes!