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The Escapists / 13th of March 2015

The Escapists, if you hadn’t already guessed, is a prison escape game, which landed on Xbox One on the 13th of February 2015, and has been available on Steam from last summer via Steam Early access. Published and ported across to console by Team 17 from the original and developed by fellow Brits, Mouldy Toof, The Escapists sees players involved in the planning, organising and execution of their daring escape from the confines of several prisons. During your incarceration you will collect key items, do prison tasks to earn items and build trust and whilst doing these objectives, all whilst trying to avoid getting beaten up by other prisoners or guards. There can also be lucrative transactions involving smuggled contraband that can really help you on your way. Needless to say, I immediately felt right at home.

Being in a heavily locked down sandbox environment within the prison setting works very well, it adds loads to the atmosphere and sense of urgency when performing your tasks and planning your escape. Sometimes you just don’t want to go everywhere and do everything or check if all the windows in a city break, as before you know it, you’ve just spent at least eight hours driving a dump truck whilst dressed up as a pimp or gopher, thankfully The Escapists contains none of this, it’s just a lovely, well-crafted game.

I absolutely love the overall look of the game, it made me think of my favourite cartridge based RPGs, but it feels wrong to refer to The Escapists look as an updated early 90’s RPG game. It looks stunning even being up scaled to 4k on my living room TV, the sound, lovely sprites, backgrounds, textures and wealth of lively colours used throughout the game are top class and you can tell it’s been lovingly crafted from the ground up by a great, highly talented development team.

As a prisoner in this 8-bit inspired, pseudo-SNES penitentiary you have to fit in your planning and preparation around your rigidly scheduled day, whilst desperately trying to not piss off both prisoners and guards in equal measure, and I was always thankful when I managed to escape breakfast without getting my head kicked in, it was like being back at high school. Playing the game gave me an anxious feeling as I sneaked about the prison, especially at points when I was sleep deprived due to my own busy schedule. I was likely as paranoid as a strung out 80’s glue addict being forced to play Imagine Studios’ Mikie on a C64, circa 1986. During the day, as well as performing chores that enable you to access items more easily - with laundry being one that will let you access Guard outfits - you have mandatory daily tasks like morning roll call, breakfast, exercise and my least liked, showering, I kept expecting some serious bum damage to occur in the showers, but unfortunately it never happened. Even during the few blocks of free time I had I found many areas locked down and heavily policed. I also ended up felling compelled to watch Scum, Lock Down & OZ after playing The Escapist, which I suppose can only be considered an added bonus.

Beneath the allure of pixelated sprites and dropping the soap in the showers, Mouldy Toof have created a deep gaming experience that doesn’t rely entirely upon its aesthetics to shift units. There are so many items to find, steal and trade for, these can be combined to make even more useful items, such as a bar of soap in a sock – ideal for knocking out guards. Contrary to the likes of Dead Rising, combinations aren’t entirely laid out for you from the start, but rather, they are discovered through experimentation. In addition, there is a social system with its own rules that must be worked within, players will form friendships and rivalries as they vie for position within the social stratum. Remember how I compared it to being at school? Well, it wasn’t such an off-hand comment after all, was it?

Players must strive to get along relatively undetected, pissing off too many people will make confrontations too hard to avoid, and this makes performing your everyday activities considerably more difficult than they really ought to be, seeing as you’ll be constantly ducking the constant wave of incoming punches targeted at your head. So, you’ve been warned, stray too far from the beaten track, and you may just find that the unfortunately named Center Perks might just become your new permanent residence.

If you can appreciate games without season passes, online multiplayer modes full of annoying children and a game that doesn’t wipe your bottom for you and tuck you in at night with a cup of hot cocoa, then The Escapists might just be for you. Give it the time that it deserves, and it will reward you through hours of enjoyable, challenging and satisfying gameplay, I recommend you purchase it, post-haste!

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