Developer: Mouldy Toof Studios
Publisher: Team17 Digital Ltd
Genre: Indie, RPG, Simulation
Platform: PC (Steam)
Price: $17.99 (USD)
Rating: NR (But should be Teen)
Release Date: February 13, 2015
I have played one prison simulation in my life, and that was Prison Architect by Introversion Software. I’m not very sure what exactly goes on in prisons, except what I’ve seen on TV or read about. Thus when The Escapists was first announced with a video review, I was somewhat interested. Instead of building and running an efficient prison, you were supposed to escape from one. Or several, depending on what prison/difficulty you chose to play. The graphics are simple, the idea is straight forward and it had a crafting mechanic. Lo and behold, a few weeks later, I’m given The Escapists by the developer to review. Sounds like fun.
First things first – this game is like playing a mixture of The Great Escape, Hogan’s Heroes and Oz. And I mean that – the simulation is funny, demanding and it can be brutal if you make one single mistake. For instance, I lifted a razor blade from a fellow cellmate’s desk, fashioned a comb blade and put it in my desk for later. The next day, they had a cell shakedown and I forgot to grab the weapon and take it with me. Sure, enough, the guards found it and confiscated it. That set me back several days in my convoluted plan, as I could not find another toothbrush and razor. In another instance, I tried to take out a man named Honeycut with a sock and soap. He KO’ed me since I didn’t work out enough.
The basis of The Escapist is that eventually you’ll try to escape using some crazy plan you concoct while exploring the prison in your downtime. Because trying to explore it any other time gets you (and got me in my first game):
A. Sniped (happened to me FOUR times).
B. Thrown in solitary (happened SIXTEEN times).
C. Suddenly shanked by someone who doesn’t like you in a lonely hallway (happened to me TWICE).
Every day the game starts with you asleep in your cell (or in solitary if you got thrown in there). You have X amount of money and energy. Everything you do requires energy, so if you max out your energy (push it to 100%), you can’t do anything else until it drops. Luckily, taking a shower, relaxing in a sun chair or just walking around causes your energy to settled down, although some methods are better than others. Money is used to “buy” things from prisoner “vendors” with yellow bag markers over their heads. Think about that guy you see in prison shows that always has a way of “having something to sell people.” Sometimes you’ll get what you want, other times you have to wait for their inventory to change. You can also bribe prisoners to like you more. So money and energy are your two best friends.
Every day has a routine, starting with morning roll-call and ending with evening roll-call. You’ll have some free time (varies on your prison) in which to improve your intelligence, your speed or your strength. Intelligence is used to get better jobs and crafting stuff. Speed is how fast you move. Strength helps you fight and survive fights. You can also use free time to just scout around and relax. A lot of fights seem to break out during free time, and the guards end up beating the heck out of everyone involved. If your health is every reduced to 0, you pass out and end up in medical (usually paying money for health care).
Doing something shifty,fighting or getting caught with contraband or escaping will result in Guard Heat going up. Guard Heat (the blue score under your heatlh) goes from 0% to 100%. Higher heat means more shakedowns, more scrutiny and less opportunities (see the job part below). If you behave every day and follow the routine, you’re Guard Heat will drop. You should never try to escape with high Guard Heat – they’ll catch you faster.
At some point, you’ll be required to go do a job. You start off with a job with quotas that must be completed to earn cash. You usually get an hour to meet the quota, although you can finish quickly and hang out for a bit. I used extra job time to do some scouting. You can change your job by applying for any vacant spots – if a prisoner fails to show up for their job or complete it, they get fired. Of course, you can stage vacancies by KO’ing dudes before their jobs *nudge nudge*, but sometimes you must meet the criteria (usually a certain amount of intelligence) before you’re even considered. You also can’t change your job if the Guard Heat is over 50%, since only behaving prisoners are rewarded.
And then there’s the Prisoner Opinion score. It’s how the rest of the prisoners think of you. If it’s high, they’ll more likely help you or give you things. It’s also one way to keep people from suddenly fighting you. If you’re opinion is low, chances are someone will take offense to something you are doing and beat you up. Not a great way to go. One way to raise the Opinion score is to talk to prisoners occasionally and do Tasks for them. The ones with green exclamation marks (!) over their heads are looking for someone to do them a favor. Do the favor (run distraction, KO a person or guard, or fetch them something) and your Opinion goes up. Of course, doing things that raise your Guard Heat too often won’t help you, even if it does raise Opinion.
And then there is crafting. Through some experimentation (or cheating by looking at the Wiki), you can figure out some pretty handy little recipes for anything from FAKE BRICK WALLS to FORGED ID PAPERS to plastic keys made from KEY MOLDS. You can create all sorts of weapons and outfits to survive fights better. The only problem is that some things require you to smuggle them out of certain areas, which is difficult with all sorts of contraband detectors around. You may need to resort to *gasp* theft of other prisoner’s property. You’ll figure out how to hide stuff you need in your escape during the day, and how to reach things you need later during your attempt. Hint: Don’t leave dirt hanging around. You’ll get caught.
The game play is good fun, since there are so many ways you can try escaping. Digging tunnels, posing as a guard, cutting fences, moving around the ventilation system … the list goes on and on. You’ll invent a plan, try it, most likely fail it the first few times, and then figure out how to best escape. A variety of methods gives you more options, so always keep trying. I escaped the first prison after 5 hours of constant trying. It was definitely a LOL worthy experience, since I got beat up and thrown in solitary more times than not. Everyone started to hate me!
The graphics and sounds are old school, coming from the 16-bit era. However, this allowed the developer to spend time actually making a GOOD game. I was surprised at how hooked I was after 30 minutes of playing it. It’s a game of experimentation and planning, which almost anyone can get the hang off. It’s also funny, as cellmates and guards say weird things at weird times.
Especially in the shower during Shower Time.
If you like indie, rogue-like games with open-ended puzzles, you’ll like The Escapists. If you like the old prison/POW camp break out movies, you’ll like The Escapists. If you are like me, and like trying new things here and there to be rewarded for a retarded plan that you pull off brilliantly (out of luck), then you’ll like The Escapists.
Shut up, Lenny – can’t you see I’m trying to dig here.
Nathan is a 40-ish year-old gamer, father and programmer. His hobbies are board games, video games and watching his son. He wrote for http://www.ironmanmode.com/ for the years of 2012 and 2013 to make money for Child's Play. He has been basically playing games since the 1980's in one form or another. His very first favorite video game was actually an arcade game called Dig Dug. He has played every generation of video game console (including the Magnavox Odyssey)