Have you ever wanted to know what it’d be like to be in prison? Well look no further than The Escapists, the perfect prison life simulator. Here you can experience the routine, the tedium, the boredom and the misery that is prison life.
The Escapists is Team 17’s first foray into publishing games made by other studios, in this case Mouldy Toof Studios. The aim of the game is simple, break out of prison. In practice it plays similarly to the Hitman games, except you escape prison instead of committing acts which would land you in prison. You’re given a sandbox to roam around in and you must find and build tools with which to escape. When you think you have everything you need, you begin your escape attempt. Then after about 5000 failed attempts, you finally escape and move on to a harder prison. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Trial and error is the aim of the game here, but in the most frustrating way imaginable. When you fail an escape attempt and get caught by the guards, you lose all of your contraband items, along with any progress you had on tunnels, cutting throw fences etc. You can reload your save to avoid losing your stuff, but the game only autosaves at the start of each day. Given that you’ll be attempting to break out at night, this means that a failure forces you to replay the entire day again.
And oh what fun the day is. You can see the joys of prison life, such as working in the washing room, loading and unloading washing machines. Or you can pump iron in the gym by mashing the triggers until you hands fall off. Or you can turn up to roll call, reminisce with your prison buddys about the time you went to the gym and did the washing.
The crafting system is poorly explained too, leaving you rubbing random items together in the hopes that they make something useful. A lot of them are common sense, such as using bleach to dye a uniform white. The problem with leaving us to use our common sense is that the game doesn’t always pay you back in kind. Wood plus wood will get you a wooden frame for a tunnel, fair enough. Wood plus wood plus wood will give you a chair. Soap and a sock gives you a sock mace? Who the hell would think of soap as a weapon? Don’t answer that, I don’t want to know.
The Escapists has a nice, simple pixel art style which lends a certain charm to the game, more so than any realistic depiction of a prison ever could. With that said, pixel art is fast becoming the go to art style for indie titles and I know a lot of people who would skip over the title based purely on it’s looks. They are wrong and stupid and all that I know, but we needn’t argue about it because there are far better reasons to skip over The Escapists.
The soundtrack is very muted and simple, fitting the tone. The soundtrack can’t be blamed here, it does its job. The problem is that its job was an awful idea. The Escapists is tedious be design and that is a cardinal sin. At no point in this game’s development did anyone consider making their game fun. It replicates prison life fantastically, it’s just that who on earth would want to pay money to experience that?
It does get points for using Ave Maria in the opening scene, which also leads me to believe that the similarities in gameplay style to the Hitman series are no accident. It then loses those points immediately for reusing songs from Flockers, Team 17’s last game. Your games are pretty niche Team 17 and there will be a lot of cross-over in the player bases, we’re going to notice these things.