I will admit to missing out on the highly regarded The Escapists, but did manage to play the Walking Dead spin off which I thoroughly enjoyed for its misleading complexity and depth. Capitalising on the success of the first game, it seems that developer Mouldy Toof is trying its hand at a sequel, and I have spent a bit of time with it.
For those familiar with the original there isn’t too much that has changed. You will still be expected to deal with the busy work of attending roll call twice per day, eating and carrying out job functions, as well as scheduled exercise and shower time. If you fail to attend any of these events it will increase your threat level meaning that guards are more watchful of your actions and therefore making it harder for you to complete tasks. At certain points during the day you will get the opportunity for free time which will give you chance to explore the prison a little bit and start to formulate your plan for escape.
The Escapists requires meticulous planning and most of all patience, as there are myriad ways that escape can happen and it is up to you to decide the best course of action. Basically you have to be Michael Schofield, but rather than tattooing the prison layout on your skin you will have to memorise it, keeping your eyes open during both free time and scheduled activities to spot weaknesses: where are the contraband scanners? Are there any areas where prison guard patrols are lighter and less frequent? What barriers are there to your escape, and are keys required? Can you befriend the guard dogs?
While you are formulating your plan, there are plenty of inmates in the prison who are looking for favours, such as gathering a soap and a sock and battering one inmate who is bullying a friend, locating various instruments for a prison band which entails pilfering lockers and desks that belong to others, and distracting a guard at breakfast time so your cohort can get up to no good. Complete these tasks successfully and you will receive a small coin reward which in turn can be traded with the various inmates for special items which are often contraband. Your actions do have consequences though, like completing a task and you might have a friend, but you may also gain an enemy who will attack you unawares, drawing the attention of the guards. If you are carrying contraband at that time it will be confiscated and you will have to work to find the materials again. Events like this can be frustrating, particularly as there is often no warning.
One of the key frustrations from the first games was the crafting system that often felt counter-intuitive. Some work appears to have been done on the crafting interface with more information for you to work with so that recipes are no longer as obtuse as they were. You will still need to increase your intelligence level by reading books to unlock higher tier recipes, but being able to see what you can craft and which ingredients you will require is a big step up.
The Escapists 2 also adds in a co-operative element which unfortunately I was unable to test as there was never anyone I could join or would join me. The addition of multiplayer seems like a smart move as much of the planning and gathering of resources can be shared. One of the key frustrations with the earlier games was that your time was so limited in free time that you often were unable to complete tasks in time meaning a lot of threads were left open at any one time and juggling them became an exercise in memory as well as patience, as inevitably something would crop up the next day which meant you couldn’t complete again. By having a pal to plot with, you can achieve twice as much in half the time.
There is a lot of information to process when you first start playing, and it can feel very overwhelming. My first few attempts at escape I forgot to put a sheet over my door so that the guards couldn’t see me tunnelling and I got into trouble and my items confiscated. I also got beaten up for seemingly no reason on a number of occasions and it wasn’t immediately obvious why. Furthermore, I have yet to work out why I am sharing a prison with Jacksepticeye and DanTDM – hopefully this will become clearer the more I play.
The Escapists 2 and the games before it require a great deal of micro-management, and the bouncy art-style hides a surprisingly deep and complex puzzle. It feels very impenetrable when you first start, but gradually as you get into the rhythm of the daily tasks, and help your fellow inmates it starts to open up. What I have played so far looks promising, there isn’t too much different in fairness to what you have seen before, but when the freedom and puzzles are this good, does it need to be?