As the staff here at Power Up Gaming are all virtuous, kind and righteous people, we naturally struggled to understand the world of The Escapists. Being the gentlefolk that we are, none of us would ever be caught in an abhorrent prole-pit such as a prison. That’s why we were excited to delve voyeuristically into the world of crime and penitentiaries and live vicariously through our grizzled avatars. How delightfully working class!
We’ve already published a hands-on preview of the game when it was demoed at the Manchester Play Expo last month, but since then we’ve had a much more in-depth playthrough, away from the lights and blaring music of trade shows, and we have to say that we’re rather enthusiastic about the game.
If you think that shanking someone involves offering them a joint of meat, then you’ll need to radically alter your way of thinking to get by in The Escapists. The overall goal of the game is to escape from prison, and this can be done in a variety of different ways. You can try tunnelling out of your cell, break into the ventilation system, steal a cell key, or beat up all the guards and take over the joint. You can perform any of these actions and plenty more to perfect your seamless escape plan.
This all sounds easy enough, but the game throws a number of daily chores that you’ll need to juggle in order to stay off of the guard’s radar. As a prison, your day is heavily regimented to include roll calls, meal times, exercise periods, showers, work (if you opt into the job system), and strict curfews every evening. You’ll be following your day-to-day routine while trying to avoid prison beatings, doing favours for other inmates, increasing your stats, and trying to accumulate everything you need for your escape. You’ll more than likely get caught up in the mundane tasks and trying not to get shivved, making it easy for you to forget that you’re supposed to be breaking out of jail.
As in the frugal, DIY world of real world prison, if you want things you’re going to have to make them yourself. The crafting system allows you to create weapons and items that may aid your getaway. Razor blades can be combined with duct tape to create knuckle dusters, batteries can stuffed into socks to create a sock mace, and you can create a bed dummy out of pillows and bed sheets to fool the guards once you’ve absconded. The possibilities as to what you can create are quite astounding, and it can be fun to see what useful stuff you can whittle out of everyday items. Some of these items are often used in real prisons, so you really get a flavour as to what prison life (albeit, 8-bit prison life) is all about.
In order to make full use of the crafting system, you’ll need to increase your intelligence. You can do this by reading in the library or surfing the net (although it remains a mystery why the prison would allow access to sites such perfectshanks.com). As this stat increases, the more items you can craft. You can also increase your strength stat in the gym, which makes you stronger and gives you more health, and your speed stat which helps you outrun guards. You’ll need to manage these skills appropriately as they do degrade over time, so creating a hyper-intelligent Adonis may prove difficult with the time restraints on your day. In this fashion, The Escapists can quickly become a maximisation, time-management simulator.
Other inmates can prove to be handy or detrimental to your escape plans. You’ll have the opportunity to perform favours for other inmates such as getting an item for them or beating up another detainee. As they say, a favour is more powerful than currency in prison. If you do this, not only will they pay you, but their opinion of you will increase and you’ll be able to add them to your posse if you decide to overthrow the guards. You can also buy contraband off of other inmates, and they’ll usually have some very useful items if you have the money.
During our playthroughs so far, we have failed to escape from even the easiest prison on offer, but we’ve had a lot of fun trying. There are a fair few levels of difficulty on offer, with the hardest prison being an overbearing dystopia of prison beatings and cell searches. If you’d like to see our video preview of the game, you can watch it below:
The game is currently in Early Access, and is available on Steam for the charitable sum of £6.99. As such, there are occasional bugs, but during our extensive testing, nothing game-breaking has been found so far. Considering that we’re still quite a way off of a full release, The Escapists is very stable and very much playable in its current build. Planned features for the future include multiplayer and tutorial options that are yet to be fully implemented, but will no doubt add more soap-dropping goodness to an already exciting package.