The Shawshank Redemption. Cool Hand Luke. Escape Plan. Lock Up. The Great Escape. These are some of my favourite prison/prison escape films. Why hasn’t anyone made a game of this yet?
Ok so there have been a few but it’s not a highly populated genre. Nonetheless, The Escapists aims to set the bar by being a very good, albeit old school prison escape game. The goal is simple – you are a prisoner, you must escape.
A dream in the form of a tutorial explains how the game works. You have a routine in the prison, breakfast, free time, work time etc and failure to be in the right place at the right time can cause suspicion. You probably shouldn’t have contraband either, as an impromptu inspection can see you losing useful items to help aid your escape. Of course, rules are meant to be broken.
This is the beauty of the Escapists. It’s an open world prison escape game. ‘Prison’ and ‘open world’ seem to be a contradiction in terms really, but you have a fair amount of freedom to go about your business in the prison and plot your escape. The ingenuity of this design means that your escape will and can vary each time you play. Generally rummaging around your fellow inmates’ rooms isn’t advised unless you don’t get caught, then it’s finders keepers. Walking around with a soap and sock is perfectly innocent, until you combine them into a sock mace and knock out Clive in the showers when he’s alone to get some coins from Greg. You can then visit Steve who may sell you some cigarettes which you can trade with Bob for a screwdriver. Lights out and it’s into the vent.
Next time you fire it up, maybe there isn’t a screwdriver for trade. So, perhaps you’ll get a job in laundry where you can steal a guard’s uniform. If you can think of it, or if you’ve seen it in a classic prison movie then you can probably use it to try and escape. Add in the mix random events – a prison riot can really ruin your plan, or even roughing up the wrong person. There’s a delicate system of friends and enemies (and frenemies) in the prison and I found very quickly that knocking everyone out isn’t the best way to succeed in escaping or even surviving prison life. A fight around every corner isn’t a good recipe.
There’s no doubt that the retro look and feel of The Escapists could well put some folks off, or the lack of just about any hints and tips (I confess, I had to resort to a few guides to work out some of the obscure crafting recipes). But a bit of perseverance and thoughtfulness, especially in the later and more complex prisons reveals quite a rewarding gameplay experience.
Reviewed on Xbox One