Review: The Escapists14 Mar 2017 3
Review: The Escapists
Released 02 Mar 2017
You did the crime and now you must serve the time. What's that? You're innocent? Yeah, sure pal. That's what they all say. It really is true for you? You really are one of those innocents who got railroaded and locked up. I'm not saying I believe you, but, if that's true that's a bad beat. Either way, you're now incarcerated and looking at quite a stint behind bars. Prison life doesn't suit you? Well, you'd best figure out how to get yourself out.
That's the setup for The Escapists, a simulation, role-playing, and crafting and resource management game. The Escapists has been out for a couple of years now on consoles and computers and has received high marks so far. It has finally arrived in the world of mobile and is out now on iOS and Android devices. The Escapists features a wide-open world and definite sandbox feel. The game invites you to explore, figure things out for yourself (the tutorial is very short), and escape if you can.
In prison, a man will do most anything to keep his mind occupied.
Prison life is all about routine. At Center Perks—the relatively comfy low-security prison with a TV in each cell—the daily grind is easy. There's morning roll call, breakfast, morning free time, lunch, work if you have and can keep a prison job (you have to meet a daily productivity quota), exercise, shower time (complete with soap dropping jokes), the evening meal, evening free time, evening roll call, and then lights out.
These daily requirements add a bit of structure to the do-what-you-want sandbox feel, but this is prison after all, and there are rules. You have to stick to the routine in order to keep the guards off your case. You want them thinking you're a model inmate, not a flight risk. If you miss a roll call the prison will go on lock down and they will find you and then it's solitary for you.
Some of the routine dovetails nicely into plotting and prepping to escape. Exercise, for example, can be an important part of your scheme. Lifting weights pumps up your strength and health. You hit harder and do more damage when fighting other inmates. Running on the treadmills makes your running speed faster and elevates your attack speed in any aforementioned brawl. If you max out both, and keep them maxed (skills deteriorate over time) you will be a force to be reckoned with.
You can also feed your mind and build up an intellect skill. Intellect determines the complexity of items you can craft. To create a mold of a guard's key, for example, requires a pretty high intellect. You can increase your intellect by looking at cat pictures on the internet. Seriously.
Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of the things. And a good thing never dies.
You’re a convict, stuck in prison. Prison sucks, even Center Perks. Your spirit yearns to be free, or something, and the hope of escape is the only thing that keeps you going. There are a lot of different ways to escape and coming up with a plan takes time and patience. This isn't an action game where you can just bludgeon the guards and run out the front door. Ok, actually you can do exactly that…but not until you've prepared!
You'll need to stick to your routine to avoid suspicion from guards. Be a good little inmate while you observe and formulate your plan for escape. You'll need tools to succeed, which means gathering components and crafting what you need. You'll have to prep your route and conceal your efforts. If discovered, to solitary you'll go, and your stash of precious marginally well-crafted items will be confiscated. Once all is ready, you make your move, and not a moment before.
I'm known to locate certain things from time to time.
Crafting your tools of escape is a big part of The Escapists and where the resource management of the game comes into play. There are a few different ways to get what you need. You can do favors for other inmates—things like delivering a beat down or finding a particular item for them—to get money. You can also earn money at your prison job, doing laundry for example. Money can be used to buy the components you are after from other inmates.
Then there's outright theft to get what you seek. Plastic forks, knives, and spoons can be pilfered from the cafeteria. Guards uniforms are ripe for the taking from the laundry. You can also enter the cells of other inmates and rifle through their things, taking what you need, although the guards don't much like this practice. When you lay the smack down on another con you can loot them as well.
You know, the funny thing is, on the outside I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.
There is indeed a lot of crime in prison. Not just the violence and theft. Many of the items you acquire, and certainly much of what you craft, are considered contraband in the prison. If you're found with anything illegal you'll be off to solitary and your stuff will be confiscated. That is, unless you hide it in the vents where it'll be safe even if you take a trip to solitary. If you do work your way into the vents, you'll want to craft a fake vent cover to, well, cover your tracks. These and other illicit tips are yours for the knowing as you ascend the prison learning curve. Tips you learn are added to your journal and go a long way toward helping craft a plan.
Crafting items is quite extensive as well. You can make shovels, pick axes, powered screwdrivers, nun chucks, spiked bats (presumably named Lucille), zip lines, rafts, and even explosives. Crafting can be easy, like a sock mace (a sock with a bar of soap or battery inside), or very complex requiring multiple hard-to-find components. You'll start out knowing some recipes, saved as notes with your journal, and will learn more as you go.
You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That's where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.
The Escapists includes six different prisons ranging from the very easy Central Perks to the very hard HMP Iron Gate. You work your way up the difficulty ladder, escaping one prison unlocks the next, and each prison has a different routine and its own challenges. The central gameplay remains the same, however, and there's a decent amount of overlap in how you'd go about escaping any of the prisons.
The game is right at home on mobile, and in many ways is a superior experience. Two of the bigger knocks on the computer version are the ASDW controls and the quality of the pixelated graphics in full-screen mode. Both of these are solved on the smaller screens of mobile devices. The game seems meant for touch controls, though you can opt for a virtual joystick if you prefer.
A lingering concern is the repetitive nature of the game. Though it is a sandbox game, the prison setting means there is a checklist of things that must be done at the same time every game day. You follow the routine or you face the consequences. These activities don't take terribly long, but they do tend to pull you out of your much more interesting scheming and that may turn off some gamers. Tracking down specific components can also feel repetitive and even something as mundane as comb can take some doing to dig up.
The Escapists is a challenging game, it ain't easy to escape from prison. It's a very deep game as well with a great deal to explore and learn. You interact with other inmates and guards and each has a running opinion of you. Beating down an inmate can have consequences later when you want to buy something from them, for example.
It's also a role-playing game to some extent and has some compelling character development. You can hit the weights and treadmill and become the guy nobody wants a piece of. This will open up opportunities to do favors that take advantage of your muscle and even a path to force your way out of the joint. Another approach would be to work on intellect and patiently gather what you need for a stealthy escape. Heck, you can even eschew escape to become a prison power broker and build up a great deal of wealth and inventory.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of different ways to develop your inmate and make your escape, or not, with no railroad tracks in sight. If you enjoy open worlds, plenty of ways to win, and lots of stuff to craft pick up The Escapists and get your Shawshank on.