Review: The Escapists 2
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Strategy, Simulation
…it hides a vast amount of strategy underneath it’s charming retro veneer – like a cleverly hidden shiv in a toilet.
2014 was a stellar year for video games. We had the phenomenal Wolfenstein: The New Order, the hilarious Octodad: Deadliest Catch, the underrated Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, and the pants-shittingly scary Outlast. One of my personal favourite games of the year, however, was Team17 and Moldy Toof’s The Escapists. A brilliant prison escape sim, The Escapists ticked every box for me. It had charming retro graphics, crafting, strategy, and accessible gameplay that was easy to learn but difficult to master.
Now, three years later, we finally have a sequel. Perhaps we didn’t actually need a sequel, but that’s besides the point as The Escapists 2 takes all the great features of its predecessor and bumps them up a notch or two. The graphics and animations are more detailed, the customisation has been expanded, the combat has been overhauled and improved, and there is much more strategy in the game. For better or worse, it’s also more of a challenge than the first game. If you waltzed through the first game like it was minimum security, this is supermax.
Upon starting the game, you’ll be tasked with completing the tutorial. This will not only benefit new players, but it will also introduce returning players to the revamped controls and combat. Playing as an inmate named Crusoe, you’ll learn how to use your desk to climb up to an air-vent, dismantling it with a screwdriver. From there, you’ll craft weapons, fight other inmates, and escape prison through a tunnel. The tutorial might seem like it equips you with the necessary skills to beat the game, but when you encounter your first real prison, you’ll learn that experimentation and strategy are what you’ll really need.
Just like in the original game and actual prison, players will have a daily routine to complete during their incarceration. A prisoner’s day-to-day life is made up of roll calls, meals, exercise, jobs and a little free time. Will you play by the rules and follow your routine, or will you skip a few meals in order to work on your escape plan? Be careful missing too many activities, security will tighten if you do – the prison may even go into full lockdown.
Of course, you can’t always play by the rules in prison – especially if you intend to escape. Players will eventually find themselves sneaking off, breaking into secure areas, stealing from other inmates’ cells, and maybe even incapacitating other inmates or even guards. Convincing the guards you’re an ideal inmate while you are crafting a daring escape might seem easy at first, but give it time and you’ll make enemies with guards and inmates, and the routine can make even the strongest man crack.
In order to pull off a daring escape, players will need to craft the right tools for the job. The original game’s vast crafting system returns in The Escapists 2, and has somehow been expanded upon even further, opening up more opportunities for escapes, tools and weapons. Crafting ingredients and other items can be bought from other inmates, stolen from guards and other inmates, or pilfered from secure areas in the prison. Obtaining crafting ingredients can sometimes prove difficult, which is why I’m thankful that all crafting recipes are already provided to players at the start of each game.
You can’t craft everything immediately, however. You’ll need to gradually increase your intelligence by studying with books or computers to access more complicated crafting recipes. In addition to becoming smarter, you can also work out in the gym to become faster and stronger, allowing you dish out and withstand more damage, as well as run faster, which is handy for both sneaking around and outmanoeuvring inmates and guards.
Visually, The Escapists 2 is more advanced than its predecessor, though it still very much sports a retro-inspired art direction. Even though it looks halfway between the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, there are subtle animations and more modern visual techniques that compliment the retro look of the game.
Similarly to the game’s visuals, the game’s soundtrack has also been tweaked. It’s disappointing though, that the main title score of the game returns and sounds almost identical to the original, and it’s repeated a lot throughout the game. The game’s audio takes the same approach as its visuals, but it just doesn’t work. Perhaps it’s because I’m not overly fond of the original game’s soundtrack to begin with, but I would have liked more original music in the early game, especially as you can spend a great deal of hours in the same prisons.
Combat has also been overhauled, with the ability to lock onto enemies, block attacks, as well as deal out both light and heavy attacks. Everything works flawlessly, except for the heavy attacks, which cause your character to charge forward and strike. The distance used by heavy attacks is simply too long to be useful in combat, and can really only be used when initiating fights with other characters – and even then it still feels like a flawed, almost useless mechanic. Apart from the heavy attacks though, combat does exactly what it needs.
The real draw of The Escapists 2 is in how much more realised it is compared to the first game. It’s complex, engrossing and is a much more improved experience overall. The best prison escape game currently available, it hides a vast amount of strategy underneath it’s charming retro veneer – like a cleverly hidden shiv in a toilet. If you’re curious about the game, don’t hesitate on checking it out.