Prison break.

Day 37 – Fully recovered from last week’s failed escape attempt, I feel ready to go again. I still can’t believe they found all my gear in the vent just because I left some gaffer tape in my draw! I have a good feeling about tonight, though. Everything is in place. I have my fake uniform, copy of the entrance door key and wire cutters for the fence. Now all I need to do is make my move once the tower guards go home.

Day 44 – So this attempt landed me in solitary for a week but I was so close I could almost taste it. I know what I need to make it work now. I just need to get my hands on a strong file, 10 plastic spoons and a cup of molten chocolate.

The Escapists, created by Mouldy Toof Studios and published by Team 17, can be described in simple terms as a prison simulation game that puts you in the shoes of one of the inmates. This, however, would be doing a disservice to an amazingly devious and deep game. Strategy, stealth, imagination, dedication and patience are all required if you are to become a true escapist.

Locked Up

You are well and truly eased in by the tutorial, which makes you feel like escaping is going to be a walk in the park. Use a couple of items, a quick bit of crafting, knock a guard out, dig under the fence and you’re out. What I soon came to realise, however, was that this couldn’t be further from the truth of how the game actually plays.

There are so many reasons why your escape attempt might, and ultimately will, go wrong.

The monotony and routine of prison life is fully embraced by The Escapists as you are shepherded from place to place by the short tempered guards. You’re told when to wash, work, eat and sleep. Your only option to end this never ending cycle is to make a break for it and get out of prison by any means necessary. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? We’ve all seen this scenario played out in Hollywood films or TV shows before. Dig a tunnel, pick a lock, cause a distraction or wear a disguise and you’l be home free. The Escapists, however, has other ideas.

There are so many reasons why your escape attempt might, and ultimately will, go wrong. Snipers in the guard towers, random searches, contraband detectors, suspicious guards, other inmates and your own stupidity to name but a few. The difficulty isn’t unfair as there’s always a logical reason why your plan failed and why you were caught. It’s important, then, that you to learn from each attempt, regroup and try again.

Beyond the tutorial and a handful of information pop-ups when you first start the game, you’re left to discover everything for yourself. This lack of direction in your pursuit of freedom will ultimately be the differentiating factor between people loving or hating this game. Unless you’re using a walkthrough and a crafting guide you will need to invest a decent amount of time into understanding how the mechanics of the game work. Especially the crafting system and key items which are vital for any escape attempt.

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Although it can be frustrating to begin with, the freedom the game gives you is also its greatest strength. The way you escape can be as elaborate or as simple as you want it to be. There is no best way to break out and you will need to be willing to try new ideas as you progress through the game. The prisons you will encounter later on all have their own unique characteristics and challenges, too.

When you factor in the daily grind of prison life and maintaining your light RPG stats, the urge to escape the confines of your cell can become overwhelming. I rushed one of my own escape attempts and was subsequently caught because I didn’t want to face another day of the same mindless activities. Prison isn’t pretty, you know.

The Escapists was reviewed on PC. 

You Know You Make Me Break Out

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