When The Escapists made its way to Kickstarter a couple of years ago, few probably realised that something truly special would eventually dig its way out of the ground and into the video game landscape. Solely developed by Chris Davis from Mouldy Toof Studios, The Escapists is an example of how creative gameplay mechanics can create a world full of fun, immersion, and a lot of prison drills.
The Escapists places you in one of six prisons and gives you one primary goal – get out. As the game’s title suggests, the entire point of The Escapists is to get out of prison and hightail it to freedom. It’s a simple idea, but one that has a great degree of flexibility and leeway for achievement. After a short tutorial explaining how the game works, you’re thrust into a world of confinement as a prison inmate. As I gradually (but eventually) made by way through the game’s prisons, each getting more difficult than the last, I became fixated on how The Escapists really works. There’s no set pattern to how you achieve your ultimate goal of freedom in each of these scenarios, and thanks to the crazed (and at times psychotic) inmates that you greet each and every morning, there’s always a chance of something new and exciting happening with each new day.
You’ll make friends and enemies, engage in big brawls with the guards and other inmates you thought were friends, and smuggle all sorts of items through whatever means possible to help aid your escape.
The Escapists doesn’t have a set story to engage with, but it makes up for that through its randomly generated inmates and their remarks throughout your time spent in prison. The game allows absolute freedom of player choice, and it enables your imagination to craft your own escape story. As I made my way through the game, all I could think about was The Shawshank Redemption, but I’m assuming that’s the case for a lot of other Escapists. You’ll make friends and enemies, engage in big brawls with the guards and other inmates you thought were friends, and smuggle all sorts of items through whatever means possible to help aid your escape. It all culminates into an experience that your imagination takes over, and to be honest I think that’s the way it should be. If the game was stuck on a particularly linear path there wouldn’t be enough leeway to enable players to explore every little facet of the game, and that would detract from the overall experience.
The design, graphics and overall presentation of The Escapists is top notch. The 16-bit style the game utilizes gives homage to the classic titles of yesteryear yet manages to establish an intriguing contrast between how extensive the game’s crafting and management system is with its overall graphical presentation. I never had the opportunity to play The Escapists on PC while it was in Early Access, so coming in as a new player I didn’t expect such a hardcore crafting system that hinges on trial and error. Combining that with the fact that management of resources, trading and keeping a hold of your coin stash is vital to success in the game, I was overwhelmed with an incredibly deep prison-sim that continued to test my skills and decision making throughout.
When you’re thrown into a prison in The Escapists there’re usually a couple of set ways to get out. You’re never guided you to those exits though, and this is where The Escapists shines the most. As I’ve mentioned above, there are no set guidelines for what to do, who to talk to and where to go. You have to make your own decisions and follow what you think might lead to a way out. The amount of freedom established in The Escapists allows you to mess around with basically everything in the prison before deciding that it’s time to attempt an escape, and more often than not I actually just enjoyed experiencing what everyday life at a prison was like. From doing set work (like washing dirty laundry) to hitting the gym in the afternoon, The Escapists establishes the feeling of actually being a prison inmate but it never makes anything boring or feel like a chore. Even the working mini-games are enjoyable and don’t get tedious, culminating in a heck of a lot of replay value. You can make friends, enemies, fight guards or be the best of the bunch and please the guards, it’s entirely up to you. I never found myself getting particularly board in The Escapists, and I spent a lot of time hitting the gym and picking fights as that’s what I enjoyed doing. The way the game thrusts you into its world without holding your hand is exciting and genuinely feels like something that you don’t experience often with games these days.
The tone set early on in The Escapists is excellently crafted thanks to its great music and sound design. Whether it’s the comical music playing throughout your journey or the racket of sirens going off because the Prison’s entered lockdown thanks to a foiled escape, Mouldy Toof Studios really nails the mood and sets a comical tone for the game without a hitch.
The Escapists won’t appeal to everyone, whether it’s because of the art style, the gameplay or perhaps it’s just the fact that prison-sims don’t appeal to every group of gamers. The fact that you’re more-or-less thrust into a world without too much help (unless you consult a guide) makes the game less forgiving to those that just want to test it out and go from there. It’s a game that requires patience and perseverance, but ultimately comes out as a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Mouldy Toof Studios, or specifically Chris Davis, has crafted an excellent game that is full of unique and creative ideas. I absolutely loved my time in The Escapists, and will be making frequent trips back to virtual prison to experience the joy of making a tactically astute escape again and again. It’s a game that is certainly not for everyone, but for those that do take the dive, there’s a lot to experience and enjoy about virtual prison life.
The Escapists is an incredibly enjoyable game, whether it’s because of the excellent gameplay mechanics, the sound design or the music – your imagination is let loose on a plan to bust out of prison.
A review copy of The Escapists was provided by the publisher. The game was reviewed on an Xbox One and will be available on the 13th of February.