The Escapists Review

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I have been unimpressed with the majority of recent video games. Maybe it has to do with the volume of content that is constantly available. Maybe I'm tired of paying for beta access. No matter what the issue, I've made a discovery that has cured me of my apathy. That solution is The Escapists. The game starts with a letter from a prison warden, on your first day in prison. The entire premise of The Escapists is to survive long enough to make it out alive. If you choose the easiest difficulty, the letter from the warden welcomes you and lets you know that they hope you enjoy your stay. The letters you receive on harder difficulties are a bit less cordial.


"Character approval is dynamically influenced by your actions. Inmates ask you for favors and to sell items."

Every morning starts with your cell door opening and you being required to meet in the courtyard for roll call. Your day then consists of one-hour blocks, where you have meals, free time, assigned jobs and even a workout session. Meals and free time are pretty self-explanatory. Jobs vary from laundry duty to making license plates. When the entire objective of the game is to escape, you would think that it wouldn't be too difficult. But even the easiest game modes prove to be a challenge.

Character approval is dynamically influenced by your actions. Inmates ask you for favors and to sell items. One favor might be to make a commotion at breakfast the next day, so Aaron can teach Elijah a lesson and you can earn $25. Others can be simple fetch quests, like, "Hey, can you find me a watch?"

Now, you can't just go into prison expecting to out muscle and outwit everyone. There are three character stats that influence almost everything: strength, speed and intelligence. You can increase these stats by bench pressing weights, running on a treadmill, reading a book or using a computer. Health scales with strength, and impacts how hard you can attack. Better weapons compliment your efficiency. Speed helps you outrun your most recent target as you wait for the next guard rotation. 


"Health scales with strength, and impacts how hard you can attack. Better weapons compliment your efficiency. Speed helps you outrun your most recent target as you wait for the next guard rotation."

Higher intelligence opens up complex crafting. Any rookie can stick a bar of soap in a sock for a cheap weapon. Someone with higher intelligence can take a screwdriver, battery and a wire, to craft an electrical torture device. Stats need to be maintained to stay sharp. As for the recipes, you can buy them off of other inmates or sometimes find them in hidden caches around the prison's off-limits areas. Be careful what you craft. Getting caught with certain items, like weapons and shovels, can earn you solitary confinement.

The idea that you are in prison and have to escape is something that I think a lot of people can really get behind. Reminiscent of A Link to The Past, the decision to use a top-down view allows for easy navigation. Considering the amount of nooks and crannies, I can't imagine attempting to play a game like this any other way. It would just be too cumbersome. Huge props to the developers for doing this. While it might seem like something that may be insignificant, it really does make all the difference.

Along with the good comes a few undeniable issues. Case in point, this game has excessive button mashing. Using the bench press or the treadmill requires you to press the dreaded 'Q' and 'E' in rapid succession. Considering your first few days in prison should be spent leveling up your stats, it got old very quickly. Secondly, the same daily schedule quickly became monotonous. I grew tired of doing the same things day in and day out. And that's when the revelation hit me; I loved this game. Let me explain.


"The Escapists is unlike any game that I've ever played, and relies on elements that would cause other games to fail miserably."

The repetition I experienced was as close as the developers could get to everyday prison life without driving players away. All of a sudden, my daily routine became important to me. The game wasn't just about getting out of prison, it was about patience. It was about crafting your plan and executing it over a period of time. You couldn't just fashion a weapon and fight your way out the front gate. It was about using the routine to know when there were gaps in the guards' rotations. It required time and more importantly timing. What I first found bothersome quickly became my greatest weapon. There was no deadline. I could leave when I was ready. It took Andy Dufresne years for crying out loud--any other Shawshank fans out there?

The Escapists is unlike any game that I've ever played, and relies on elements that would cause other games to fail miserably. I've spent close to a month in prison and I'm nowhere near close to escaping. Perhaps I should have chosen an easier prison. Maybe I shouldn't have jumped a guard to steal his keys, requiring me to spend three days in solitary confinement. Either way, it has been a lot of fun. The Escapists is certainly its own creature, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Review by: Mike Ackerman | Reviewed on: PC

9

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