It’s been two years since the hit prison escape game The Escapists was released, a game that was often, despite the acclaim, criticised for being overly tough and arrived without a great sense of depth. As with any big hitting experience that sells like hotcakes, a sequel is almost always inevitable, and that’s no different for The Escapists. The Escapists 2 sets out to build upon the first game whilst improving the formula and remedying the criticisms that were found in the previous serving, and although this is still one hell of a tough experience, it’s a solid well rounded title that should easily please both newcomers and returning fans alike.
The game offers up a short but fairly necessary tutorial prison that you can take to which will teach you the basics of play and feed you into the experience at hand. Even if you’ve played the first game, I highly advise paying the tutorial a visit, not only to brush up on your skills but to acquaint yourselves with the new functionalities of play. It’s unfortunate however that one of the shortcomings in The Escapists 2 is every bit as noticeable in the tutorial as it is in the rest of the game.
What’s that exactly? Text bubbles, ladies and gentlemen, that’s what one of the problems are. Throughout the entirety of The Escapists 2, text bubbles that often dish up important information, are overlapped by other text bubbles, which often entirely obscure your view. It doesn’t help that these text bubbles don’t stay on the screen for all too long, meaning that you can guarantee that you’ll miss out on important tips and nudges, regardless as to what prison you’re situated in. Don’t get me wrong, you can still enjoy the game with these issues present, but for an experience that’s already tough as nails as it is, this doesn’t help soothe the frustration that you’ll undoubtedly be subject to.
As expected, the aim of the game is to escape whatever prison you select from the main menu, but this is by no means going to be a walk in the park. You can’t merely spend all of your time sussing out what route you will take or what prison weakness you’ll exploit, because you need to balance prison life to ensure that the guards are pleased, and more importantly, not suspicious of your intentions. Each day plays out with a set of tasks that you need to attend to, which ranges from roll-calls, lights out, exercise, jobs, lunch, breakfast, and so on and so forth.
If you’re late, or if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, each guard that spots you will bark orders at you. This collectively adds up via a heat gauge at the bottom left of the screen, and when you take into account that this will increase for each guard that spots you, you can fall short pretty quickly if you don’t act fast. The Escapists 2 constantly reminds you that you’re not in charge, and if you don’t respect the tight schedule, you’ll feel the wrath of the game at its finest. You do indeed have some freedom, which you can utilise to plan your escape. This comes either during free time, or with that little bit of time you have left over when you’ve visited / completed your scheduled requirements.
As with any prison, there’s contraband that you need to gather. However before you can do that, you need to earn money. You can earn money by doing favours for your fellow inmates, which can be anything from blocking a toilet to beating the crap out of an unsuspecting con. You can also rummage through other cells to steal contraband, but you need to be careful that a guard, or more importantly the convict that belongs to that cell, doesn’t see you. In regards to the difficulty of the game, that all depends on how you assess each and every situation as well as weigh up how much risk you’re willing to take. The gameplay itself isn’t at all difficult, being that doing something as simple as eating lunch, simply requires that you pick up a tray and park your ass. Gym work and book reading on the other hand requires that you hit buttons at exactly the right time to successfully bump up your stats.
You can drive a number of stats (job offers tend to rely on hefty stats) forward by ensuring that you participate in activities. Gym work will make you stronger and increase stamina, which in-turn will make beating up a con or evading a guard much more easier, whereas reading will make you more intelligent, which will open new crafting abilities for you to play around with your acquired contraband. I found it quite useful to partake in these activities during my free time too, just to give me that extra kick. After all, these stats will make your escape somewhat quicker when you see that digging a tunnel or crafting a specific high-end item sees you through. There are several different ways to escape the prisons within, so it’s entirely up to you to find which method suits you better. Tunnel digging, exploiting a weakness in a guards patrol pattern, walking out the front gates wearing a disguise, choice is plentiful, but getting there is an entirely different story.
It doesn’t matter which method you gravitate toward, as you’ll need to make friends with the crafting system in order to obtain the items you need to execute your plan. Crafting is as simplistic as pressing a button (so long as you have the necessary items) to make what you need. The crafting menu will tell you exactly what items your need in order to craft a specific object, and it goes without saying that searching every cell for these items is the easiest method to lean on. Outside of this you can also purchase items from other inmates, which is often the best way to go to ‘play it safe’.
That all means nothing if you get caught out by the guards for whatever reason they’ve turned on you. If this happens, you’ll lose all of your contraband and will have to go right back to square one. Thankfully, your the chest in your cell has very limited hidden compartments, so it pays off to ensure that you put your most valuable items here to prevent confiscation. Pro-tip, you can drop as many items as you like in the vents. Funnily enough if you do get caught, you get sent to solitary, which sees you peeling spuds until you’re allowed back into gen-pop to work once more on your escape. If on the flip-side you manage to break out, you’ll be rewarded with a key. The key allows you to take on the same level, but with more challenges thrown into the mix. It’s hardly a game changer, but it is something that adds to the longevity.
If the lack of co-op play in the first game upset you, then you’l be glad to know that The Escapists 2 houses the feature for both local and online play, for up to four players. Not only is this a welcoming addition, but it fits the theme of the game magnificently. It doesn’t make it any easier to escape, in fact I dare say that it makes it harder because now there’s eyes on more than one person working towards the same plan, but it’s a feature that absolutely dishes out more fun and replay value nevertheless. Co-op houses the ability to drop-in and drop-out at any given time, which is a great design choice for the experience at hand. You can also dive into some versus which sees you go head to head against another player. There’s a time limit that you have to keep in mind, but there’s no schedule that you have to respect. The aim of the game here is to escape before the opposition, to claim your victory.
The Escapists 2 also provides some new and interesting mechanics when it comes to the selection of levels. Not everything is about breaking out of prison, as there’s also some new transport levels to take to. These are less strict and less structured than the prison levels, being that you’re working to a time limit, there’s no schedule to uphold, and you’re tasked with stealthily nabbing items from the guard’s desks to succeed. These come on top of some pretty far out prison levels, which includes escaping from a space jail and other fun yet wacky designs. All in all, I found that there’s a decent portion of variety to enjoy in The Escapists 2, with each content piece being just as interesting as the last.
Visually, The Escapists 2 is a step up from the predecessor. It still retains that top-down colourful 16-bit style, but there’s a great level of detail that surpasses that of the first game. Each level has been well designed, ensuring that players are constantly treated to a variety of diverse themes and environments. This is all tied together by a solid soundtrack that easily beats its way into your head. It’s a shame however that for a game that’s so well created, it will only be appreciated by those with patience and forgiveness. I can easily see many people becoming frustrated with the game, which is simply due to its time swallowing concept, but if you can allow yourselves to be fully immersed by The Escapists 2, you’re in for one hell of a treat.
The Escapists 2 is exactly what a sequel should be. It takes everything that worked from the first outing and retains it, whilst fixing what didn’t work, and adding in new and interesting mechanics. The soundtrack and presentation just simply cannot be knocked, and when you tie this to the excellent gameplay, there’s a lot to love within. On the flip side this can easily be as frustrating as it is fun, being that you can spend hours playing and make little (to no) progress at all due to the trial and error gameplay. The inclusion of local and online multiplayer is a fantastic addition that adds a lot of replay value, and when you band this with the multiple escape possibilities that each prison offers and the unlockable challenges throughout all of the diverse levels, it shows the great deal of longevity that The Escapists 2 houses. It does become annoying when the text bubbles overlay important intel, but it’s still every bit as enjoyable nevertheless. If you enjoyed The Escapists, you’ll love The Escapists 2.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.