In the game of life, those who commit crimes are often subjected to extreme punishment in the form of lengthy jail sentences and mandatory community service sessions. Once imprisoned, culprits are then introduced to an environment so harsh that they yearn for freedom shortly thereafter. This is essentially the core concept behind Mouldy Toof Studios’ The Escapists, a lighthearted top-down prison simulation indie game filled with creativity and promise.
In The Escapists, players take on the role of a convict and they are given the arduous task of escaping one of six different prisons on varying difficulty settings. There is no particular story mode to explore and we don’t get a concrete idea as to why you ended up behind bars in the first place. This is literally a scenario where your character is thrown into the fire and has to fend for himself right away. Of course, all of this is by design and it truly shows you just how much thought the developers have put into the overall experience.
You begin the game as a very basic created character with a fully customizable name and appearance. After completing this step, the player is then taken through a brief tutorial on how to stun a police officer and initiate a quick escape. This scenario involves crafting both found and stolen items into weapons which aid in the escape and can also be used to attack guards and other inmates. Once you successfully get past this tutorial, you are instantly transferred over to Center Parks, the first prison on your list to explore. The other five remaining prisons are only accessible after you’ve managed to escape each prison one by one.
Center Parks serves as the perfect example of what one can expect from a typical gameplay session in The Escapists. As a convict, you are on a strict schedule that constantly requires you to be somewhere different at various times throughout the day. You’ll be called upon to complete mundane tasks such as cleaning the prison and participating in supervised morning roll call sessions everyday.
While you do have the ability to roam freely throughout the facility, walking aimlessly into other inmates’ cells definitely raises suspicion and leads to guards coming after you when you ignore their warnings. This is clever AI at work here that succeeds in keeping the player both engaged and strategic in how they decide to conduct their day-to-day activities.
Some of the best aspects about this game come from how life is portrayed within each prison. There are a total of 10 jobs that you can be assigned, all of which help you build relationships and progress through the game. You also have the ability to do paid favors for other inmates that can include anything from beating up another prisoner to causing a scene with the guards during lunchroom periods.Currency earned from these acts can then be used for bartering and buying new tools for crafting.
Last but certainly not least, you character has the ability to build their strength and crafting ability intelligence by going to the gym and library on a regular basis. Using each and everyone of these techniques will not only better your chances of escape, but it also goes a long way in showing just how much patience and thought is required into getting the most out of this title.
With so many positives about The Escapists, there are at least two issues that I personally had with the game. For starters, the concept of meticulously plotting out your exit strategy can be a bit repetitive and tiresome after awhile. While the game does offer new prisons to explore, you really have to be sold on the idea of using patience every step of the way to be successful. New weapon crafting variations and strategies are there, but you’ll have to invest in finding these alternatives. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely not something that every gamer will be content with unless they are really sold on the process.
My other issue with the game lies in the fact that the AI difficulty might be slightly inconsistent at times. I encountered this problem on a few occasions when other prisoners randomly started attacking me for no particular reason. While some of these encounters could have been chain reactions from earlier fights I had with other inmates, this never is pointed out as such and often lead to the experience being more aggravating than fun.
Putting these two issues aside though, The Escapists is still a clever top-down simulation indie game that strategists will love. If you have patience and you get a thrill of a formulating the perfect plan, then you definitely owe it to yourself to see exactly what this title has to offer.
This review was based on a digital review copy of The Escapists for the Xbox One provided by Team17 Digital Ltd.