Plan, build, improvise and escape. This is the premise behind The Escapists and in many ways it executes this well although it’s conflicted by repetition and a lack of depth with anything outside of its gameplay mechanics. The Escapists is a game targeted towards a very niche audience and players will have to bare with for a great deal of time before they can seek the enjoyability and benefits that the game has to offer.
Starting the game with a choice of preset characters that offer up limited customization, before running through a brief tutorial of learning the basics to movement and item crafting, the latter of which becomes the most important mechanic to the overall goal of the game. Best described as a slimmed down RPG, the core mechanics of the game will have the player engaging in fetch quests, earning money, and crafting items. Why? To escape prison.
Stashing weapons and tools in your character’s pants and jail cell is the key to freedom. No pun intended. Played from a top-down perspective in which the player navigates a prison through sandbox level design. Scurrying through vents and digging underground tunnels, The Escapists offers no pre-defined routes for completion. It’s up to the player and their own level of progression through character stats and item possession, to strategize and take note of everything that’s taking place in the rest of the game.
"The Escapists does have it's few moments of chaos and unpredictability. As it stands however all of this can become very dull and very quickly."
Conversing with other inmates through speech bubble texts as they confess their worries, sins, and fears. As well as depression and evil intentions for making somebody else’s life a living hell, it never gets old. Plotting to frame other inmates, staging riots to distract guards, picking fights in the shower, and pick-pocketing valuables that will become of a greater use at a later time in the game.
The Escapists does have it’s few moments of chaos and unpredictability. As it stands however all of this can become very dull and very quickly. I feel this has something to do with the game’s lack of structure and general direction. While the game leaves the player to think for themselves and make their own moves when they’re ready, something in the way of a primary mission that the player needs to undertake would’ve been much appreciated. Now while some may enjoy this and may wish to spend their time enhancing their character’s stats, running errands, causing mischief and so on.
There really isn’t much to do outside of these tasks nor is there much in the way of exploration. Had the game incorporated an online co-operative feature whereby players can work together to complete tasks, or better yet plan a more in-depth mission of their own parameters, I feel the game could’ve been far more interesting.
"There's a real sense of dread and pressure as the guards storm about the prison, checking your cell, living out their own insecure and selfish power fantasies."
What the game does give players to work with is essentially a light-hearted RPG, as previously mentioned. Crafting tools and buying items from the other inmates not only aids in your escape, but also serves as a means of protection. This is a prison after all. Inmates may befriend you but that doesn’t mean they won’t turn on you when things are in their favour. This also goes for the guards, these guys are dirty, they hate you and they’re clearly out to make your life as horrid as possible. Whether it’s presented in the way of conversational topics, giving out orders or beating you to death with a baton, they hate you.
There’s a real sense of dread and pressure as the guards storm about the prison, checking your cell, living out their own insecure and selfish power fantasies. In terms of reflecting its theme and the mood it sets out to achieve, it does this fairly well. The problem here is that I can’t tell which parts of this was done by design and which wasn’t. For instance the game makes use of a daily timer keeping track of the routine events that’s going on such as “Evening Meal” and “Morning Free Period”.
During the day the player is meant to follow mundane tasks such as working, showering, eating, and attending the morning roll call. Outside of this the player is left to to do their own thing. This consists of requests by the other inmates and increasing your character’s stats by the way of reading, working out, and earning dirty money.
"The main problem surrounding this all is that there seems to be no higher goal, in regards to the character's main progression of levelling up and becoming more skilful. Other than trying to escape the prison which is the main priority, the game feels as though it's missing something of more significant importance."
Where everything here I’ve just described is clearly by the design of the game and it works well in reflecting prison life, certain elements of the game just feel flawed and kill the player’s enjoyability. With limited exploration and nothing to do other than what I’ve just mentioned, enjoyability is a choir at best and it becomes very repetitive, very tedious and it happens very fast. This is where I feel the game falls off in many ways as you’re often left wondering “Well hey if I don’t take part in this, then there’s nothing else for me to do”…Prison simulation or lack of depth within it’s gameplay?
The main problem surrounding this all is that there seems to be no higher goal, in regards to the character’s main progression of levelling up and becoming more skilful. Other than trying to escape the prison which is the main priority, the game feels as though it’s missing something of more significant importance.
Repetition is a strong word here and whether that’s seen by some as a negative or a positive is down to the fact that it’s a prison simulator. It’s like the player must accept the implied boredom. Frankly I’m not sure if the game is trying to invoke some form of sarcasm or unintentional irony in reflecting prison life. Hence the niche audience and the questioning of enjoyability. Particularly within the first hour or so things can be rather difficult to pursue. One thing I really have to question with the game is in regards to it’s visual style, as I sense that’s partly where it’s enjoyability will come from for a vast majority of people.
So my question here is, had the game opted for realism rather than top-down pixel art, would the game still have been attractive? In premise, yes. The idea of a prison simulator does sound rather intriguing. Insulting maybe but nonetheless an intriguing experience that many are curious about but would reject the idea off through a hands-on experience.
"There is some comedic nature to the game in terms of the characters you meet and there is some fun to be had when undertaking requests by the inmates. But as it stands I would much rather watch a playthrough of the game and laugh as the drama plays out, as opposed to playing through it myself."
Now taking into account the repetition in gameplay as it does so well at reflecting the daily life of a prisoner, with some thrown in comedy just for good measure, there’s absolutely no chance the game would have been so appealing had it made use of realistic visuals. It seems as though the game is relying on the nostalgia of pixel-art graphics as a means to its enjoyability.
The problem with this however is Steam. Littered with retro “Artistic” games that promise a nostalgic fun-factor with the implementation of modern day game mechanics, that are vastly more in-depth to the older games that they seek to visually imitate. The Steam store is overflowing with games of this nature and the only thing that seems to be setting each one of these titles apart, is the growing trend of an implied platforming or goofy simulation mechanic.
One thing that entices the player to push forward with it all and actually deserves some credit is the game’s soundtrack. In some instances it can provide the feeling of pressure and nervousness, while in others it can be tense and childish.
This does well in keeping the pace going as well as enhancing the theme and mood that the game places over the player. The Escapists is by no means a bad game it’s just rather unfortunate that its flaws stand out to a greater degree more so than it’s qualities, primarily within its repetition.
There is some comedic nature to the game in terms of the characters you meet and there is some fun to be had when undertaking requests by the inmates. But as it stands I would much rather watch a playthrough of the game and laugh as the drama plays out, as opposed to playing through it myself.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Funny character dialogue.
Extremely repetitive gameplay.
The Escapists is a game for a very niche audience, as it doesn't provide much in the way of variety to deliver enough entertainment for long periods of time.
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