If you have ever played a video game or watched a film, you will have undoubtedly witnessed the iconic moment in which a character has escaped from prison; whether the criminal has dug a tunnel out of the confinement using nothing but a spoon or blown the cell wall off using a DIY explosion. The Escapists is a game based around this concept. So cue “The Great Escape” theme song, as The Escapists has busted its way onto the Xbox One through the ID@Xbox program.
Put simply, The Escapists is a strategy title of captive survival and daring schemes which gives players the “freedom” to live the life of a prison inmate, plotting and pulling off a daring escape. However, this is no simple task. Players have to work around the strict prison schedule, whilst also avoiding the unwanted attention of guards. There is no set, pre-designed path out of the prison, so finding an escape route is largely a case of trial and error.
Played through a top-down perspective, The Escapists encompasses an 8-bit design, which brings with it a delightful charm and charisma, with a pleasant soundtrack to match. There is also a number of laugh out loud moments, as fellow inmates and prison guards greet you with comical lines.
Scattered throughout each of the prisons is a variety of items, which can be used to assist in the getaway. These items can be constructed into new tools, weapons and other objects through the game’s crafting system, which works in a Minecraft-esque fashion. The system boasts a wide range of items throughout (approximately 250 all-in-all), allowing players to fully experiment as they plan their escape routes.
In addition to crafting, items and supplies can also be purchased from fellow inmates and prison guards using gold coins, obtained by reaching the quota in your prison role. Such jobs include janitor, mail man, gardener and working in the laundry room, among others. These can be utilised in order to form an escape route, adding extra depth to the gameplay as a result.
Another way of earning gold coins is by completing favours for fellow inmates. These objectives mainly consist of obtaining specific items, causing a disruption and beating up inmates. While the favours aren’t overly difficult to carry out, all of the actions have consequences, as each inmate and prison guard forms an opinion of you. The higher their opinion, the more likely they are to assist in your escape. On the other hand, they are more likely to drop you in it if they have a low opinion. It’s all about getting the right balance.
There are six prisons to bust out of in total, as players work their way up from the minimal security of Center Perks to the harsh confines of the Stalag Flucht prisoner of war camp. While six stages may not sound like a large number, it certainly is in the context of this incredibly difficult game.
The Escapists is a strategy title which rewards those who are willing to dedicate a considerable amount of time and persistence. The combination of no set, pre-designed path, the short-lived tutorial and the elusive hint system offer very little in the way of guidance, leaving players at the mercy of their own doing.
To make matters even more difficult, there are specific items the inmates are not allowed to have in their possession. Such contraband is removed during “cell shakedowns” or when players are knocked unconscious by guards for misbehaving. This is a particularly frustrating aspect of the game, more so after players have spent a considerable amount of time locating and crafting the items. But, then again, this is a realistic portrayal of a prison environment after all.
Another snag with the game is its slightly flawed control system. While it doesn’t have a significant impact on the gameplay, navigating the menus can feel particularly fiddly at times and there’s a nagging feeling that it would be better suited to a PC setup as opposed to the Xbox One controller.