Simulator style games have become a very popular genre over the last few years, with a wide variety of offerings out there for gamers. Ranging from taking control of a surgeon to even a goat, these simulators have been relatively simplistic, but still fun. Former Steam Early Access title The Escapists aims to push the boundaries of the genre further by mashing it together with both puzzle and RPG elements as players attempt to make a prison break.
The main goal of The Escapists is to escape from a number of prisons available in the game, but the true gameplay is the journey towards that escape. Each day within the game is made up of the usual parts of a day at most any prison, including meals, free time, exercise time, and of course shower time. These remain the same day after day, though technically players do not have to participate in any, except for the morning and evening roll call. This gives a little bit of freedom, for a lack of better words, to players within the prison.
Throughout the different prisons and even within each individual prison, there are numerous ways to try and escape. Whether you want to dig yourself out over time with certain tools, steal keys, or craft yourself a strong enough padded suit to fight off the guards and just walk out, the variety allows for very different experiences in each playthrough.
The crafting mentioned above is a central part of The Escapists, with a long list of weapons, tools, outfits, and other items being able to be made in game. This mechanic is introduced early in the game, but quickly becomes a game of trial and error. Crafting itself is simple, as it is done within the pause menu, but not getting much information at all on just how to do so without much work can grow frustrating in no time. Some of the items make sense, such as making a comb blade weapon from a comb and razor blade, but some others will require lucky guesses. This is where the puzzles come into play, as each prison will require different methods of strategy to build towards an escape.
The game has a rather simplistic RPG system in place through not only the collecting of items and crafting, but also the raising of three different stats. During the various periods of time of the day in each prison, players can do some side tasks to increase these stats. The gym offers both weights and treadmills to use, with weights increasing overall strength and the treadmill increasing speed. The third statistic is intelligence, which can be increased in a few ways, including watching LOLcat videos on the internet in prison. The latter is an example of how the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is for the best in this style game.
Stamina is also important, as one must have energy to do the aforementioned tasks. The problem is that replenishing energy can be done in a number of ways very quickly. The game really should have made tasks like eating each meal and showering more vital, where instead you can just go into the shower for a second to replenish energy instead of eating at all. The freedom during the day is good in some aspects, but it also makes like half of the daily activities completely irrelevant and superfluous.
As with any real-life prison, making friends while in prison is vital as is trying to avoid making enemies. However, to fulfill many favors, you will have to beat up some people along the way. This introduces one of the worst overall aspects of the game, where those who you have wronged will try to beat you up constantly from that point forward. Whether it is 20 days later or cops are right there in the room, they will still charge at you and attempt to beat the crap out of you. It would make a lot more sense if they restrained themselves around cops or eventually stopped after a number of days, as paying them money only increases their opinion of you by minimal amounts.
feels incredibly rewarding to make the right item or grand escape
The Escapists almost feels like it came straight out of the ’80s, complete with colorful 8-bit graphics. This simplistic style design fits this type of game, but it isn’t always perfect. With so many other inmates you will come across, you are bound to make a few angry in your time. The problem lies with just how similar many of them look, making it much more difficult to avoid or target some if that is the goal for a “favor.” Players have the ability to edit inmates before starting, but there are very few changes that can be made. Each inmate does have their name when they are close enough, but it just makes it somewhat difficult.
The names are an issue also due to another issue, incredibly small text. The text boxes that will pop up throughout the game are especially an issue, as even someone with extremely good vision on a big screen HD television can have trouble viewing without looking very closely. This is something that is likely a result of being originally developed for PC, but should really be patched to make playing much easier, especially when one is still learning the ropes.
The Escapists is a quite challenging game with some great ideas scattered throughout, but sometimes feels lacking in execution. Adding in RPG elements was a wise decision by the developer, interweaving it with the overall puzzle gameplay of trying to escape each prison. However, the game is greatly held back by how parts of the game require too much trial and error, though it feels incredibly rewarding to make the right item or grand escape after much troubleshooting. The Escapists overall is a unique game that is great for those looking for a challenge, but may be a little too tedious for the general gamer.
- Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Published By: Team 17 Digital
- Developed By: Mouldy Toof Studios
- Genre: Puzzle, RPG
- US Release Date: June 2nd, 2015
- Reviewed On: PS4
- Quote: "The Escapists can be hours of fun for those who enjoy a good challenge in a unique setting, but abundant troubleshooting can make this a hard sell for a mainstream audience."
- Weaves RPG and puzzle elements together
- Number of items that can be crafted
- Numerous ways to escape
- Too much trial and error
- Tiny text