The premise of The Escapists is a simple one – escape from a prison. There’s no plot that explains that your character was convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. Nor are the guards and warden made out to be the villains of the piece. Other than a stats bar there are no relationships or cutscenes. Just your ever-present task of escaping. Of course it’s the execution that makes The Escapists complex.
In terms of options The Escapists does everything right. Rather than providing you with any options for escape or a list of objectives to achieve one of a choice of escape methods all you get are the tools to escape. From getting access to certain contraband during jobs, buying from other prisoners at the right times or even just outright theft there are a huge amount of items available to you. Not all seem useful at first but as you progress you find the need for more and more creative items to break free.
The first couple of days are usually needed to figure out the routine and generally map the prison out and spot any weaknesses. The main issue you will have in moving items around the prison is the contraband system. The metal detectors in The Escapists aren’t limited to detecting metal but instead will go off and alert guards if you have any contraband on you. Even if it’s plastic. If, for example, you need to get a shovel to a certain point through a contraband detector you will need to either sneak it through somehow or find a way around. In this respect knowing your surroundings is very important in The Escapists and makes for some strategic gameplay.
Your cell is a good place to start and either having a wall cavity covered by a poster to store things or a hole under your desk is a great way to store contraband. There’s an amazing sense of tension as you take the poster down and reveal the hole to retrieve items. If a guard sees you that’s it for you. You lose all your items and all holes and tunnels will be repaired. You also lose a chunk to your stats. Usually, in fact always, it’s best to reload.
Thankfully you are not allowed to save as and when you feel like it. At the end of the day after all your hard work you can go to bed and the game will save and load the next day. Which means whenever you find an important item you’ve been waiting to get your hands on you need to consider if you want to use that item straight away and risk losing it or sleep and save it. When you go to sleep and save you miss the entire night and it instantly becomes day. More often than not an escape will be at night which allows the day to create a risk of lost progress and tension, but you’ll never be sent all the way back to square one.
Stats are fairly basic menu management but they do have an important role to play. You have intelligence, speed and strength to balance. Speed actually doesn’t govern how fast you move but how fast you can hit in a fight. Strength directly controls the amount of health you have. And a certain intelligence is required to craft most items. Initially they are all low but after a few days in the prison you will probably have them all maxed out. Unfortunately they do fall back down over time but they are easily manageable once they are at or around 100. It’s just another concern that makes up part of your escape plan – it’s simple but effective.
Given the amazing amount of tools available, the harsh but fair (and entirely necessary) saving system and stats the only thing left is the prison maps themselves. And I’m glad to say they’re all great. The first is a low security prison that acts as a fantastic tutorial to the game and gives you quite a bit of freedom to try different approaches. Although the game doesn’t hold your hand at all so you’ll need some persistence and creativity to progress. The guards will comment on fluffing pillows and making your stay enjoyable. The second prison is a jungle POW camp with very different atmosphere, far more limitations and a few extra complications added to the escape too. Working on the later maps the guards become even more terse and contraband sensors can be found everywhere.
Even your routine becomes more strict and gives you far less opportunity to work on your escape plan. Your heat will increase by a fair chunk if you entirely miss something like a meal or exercise period so you at least have to turn up and then sneak off to dig a hole with a plastic spoon or whatever. By the time you get to the third prison things are tough. You will need to be creative, determined and careful.
But you can be joyful upon success knowing that The Escapists doesn’t hold back. The Escapists is an ‘8-bit’ strategy game with more than enough wit and style entwined into every single moment. It is strategic, stylish and funny. There’s a huge amount of content and the sense of satisfaction when the plan comes together and you finally escape successfully is unparalleled. You know it was your logic, quick thinking, creativity and timing that won the day.