- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PC, Xbox One
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Team 17
- Developer: Mouldy Toof Studios
- Players: 1
- Site: escapistgame.com
- Game code provided by the publisher
We remember fondly playing The Great Escape on the humble old ZX Spectrum many moons ago. The isometric adventure which tasked you with escaping from a German prisoner of war camp during World War II was a classic at the time, that had different ways for you could escape from the camp, all while you kept up the appearance of being a model prisoner, following a set routine. The Escapists has many of the same traits as the Speccy classic, but is it Shawshank Redemption level of good, or should it be locked up in solitary confinement with the key flushed down the toilet?
The Escapists uses an overhead viewpoint, and the art style is simplistic pixelated graphics that hark back to the days of the Spectrum and the Commodore 64. The game begins with your character waking up in his cell, and the day starts with you heading to a roll call, before heading off for breakfast. You are then given some free time, which is when you can begin to formulate your escape plan by watching guard patrols and searching for items. You can use your free time to build up your Intelligence stats by using computers to LOL at cats, or reading books in the library. You also have an exercise period in the gym (which helps build up your Strength and Speed stats), and the obligatory shower scene (just don’t pick up the soap! Ahem). You also have part of your day spent doing work, with various jobs available for prisoners like working in the Laundry, the Kitchen or the Metal Shop. As well as earning a wage, these different jobs give you access to various resources, and help you to build relationships with fellow inmates.
Each character has an Opinion stat which refers to how they feel about the player character. Characters with a low opinion of you will regularly try and attack you, while if they have an opinion of 80 or more they can be recruited to attack any fellow inmates or even prison guards, and will help protect you from any unprovoked attacks. You can increase the Opinion stats of fellow inmates by doing favours for them, like starting a fight at lunchtime, finding an item they want, or simply bribing them with money. Just be careful you don’t deny a favour, or get caught stealing from a fellow inmate’s desk, as this will reduce their opinion of you.
If you start to make too many enemies in the prison, you’ll find yourself walking a gauntlet of hate even if you’re quietly going to the canteen for lunch. This can get quite annoying as any time you try to follow the routine, you end up in a scrap, and once the guards get involved you’re, excuse the pun, screwed. If the guards get hold of you, then any contraband you have will get confiscated. It got to the point where we had to try and avoid the group activities and became a bit of a loner, until we managed to build up a team of bodyguards.
There are many items available in the game, and crafting is a major part of your escape plan; with things like guard uniforms, shovels and wire cutters that can be crafted from household objects that would put the A-Team to shame. The game doesn’t give you any hints as to what can be crafted with certain items, and trial and error is the name of the game. After a while we ended up finding a guide online for what items can be crafted, as some were quite obscure. For instance, to make a fake vent cover (to cover up your exploration of the ventilation system) you need to create paper mache by combining glue and toilet paper, then you need to combine two lots of paper mache to make a fake vent cover. Once you’ve come up with a plan, the hardest part is trying to pull it off without being caught. We had several plans that were thwarted by guards with almost superhuman powers of deduction. Once you are caught all your items are confiscated, and any fences you were cutting through, or holes you dug are fixed or filled in, and you are put in solitary confinement for a few days. You then have to start from scratch, which is both infuriating and demoralising.
There is a lot of depth to The Escapists, and many different ways to escape; it’s just hampered by the repetitious nature of prison life, which in a way is the point. Also, while the pixelated art style is quite striking, it can be quite difficult to see which character is which. Thankfully the names of fellow prisoners and guards appear when you approach them, but be aware that in-game text is quite small, which makes remote play on the Vita quite difficult. But even with the frustrations there is a lot to like about The Escapists, and with six different prisons to escape from, there is also a lot of content. There is also loads of replayability, with so many different ways to escape each prison. It might not be for everyone, but if you have the patience, then The Escapists is very rewarding – and when you finally breathe your first breath of freedom, it will leave you feeling smug and elated.