|System: Xbox One, PC*|
|Dev: Moldy Toof Studios|
|Pub: Team 17 Digital|
|Release: February 13, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes|
by Sean Engemann
"Welcome to Shawshank." Well not really, but it's hard not to be reminded of the classic film when you boot up The Escapists. A visual throwback to the RPGs of the 8 and 16-bit eras, you play a freshly incarcerated prisoner on a mission to escape. The game provides a handful of different prison complexes with varying degrees of difficulty, from pillow fluffed spas to maximum security penitentiaries. Each fresh prison offers a variety of ways to escape, but unfortunately the accelerated pace of the game and a frustrating crafting system make achieving that goal more of a chore than is necessary.
"You eat when we say you eat." Your days in prison run on a tight schedule of roll calls, meal times, work periods, exercise and shower time, and lights out to finish. You are expected to follow the rules or suffer the consequences. Roaming around during meals and exercise will build "heat" from the guards, which could land you in the infirmary (a place you'll visit often). Missing your work quota means no pay and possibly unemployment. Missing a roll call puts the prison in lockdown mode and nets you a trip to solitary confinement if caught. There are a few open free times where you can read a book, exercise some more, snoop through other inmate's desks, or size up the layout of the prison and plan your escape.
"Prison life consists of routine, and then more routine." The daily grind gives you opportunities to improve your stature and pocket money. Read books and browse the internet to raise your Intellect score, which is required for crafting items. Pump iron to raise your Strength in order to pummel inmates and guards into submission. Hit the treadmill to beef up your running speed, although this one I found a little inconsistent, since you can outrun most other characters even with a low score. It doesn't help that the game speed borders on Shinobi fast. With only a brief tutorial to start, you're thrown into the tornado with nothing but an arrow pointing you where you need to be during each phase of the day. The only way to counteract this brevity is to accept the fact that until you have mastered every nuance of the game, you're not going to find your escape until many days and weeks have passed. In this regard, the first several days are best spent training your skills, building a sizable wad of cash, and studying the layout of the prison and the movement patterns of the guards, all while keeping your nose clean.
"We all need friends in here. I could be a friend to you." Building relationships with other inmates is a simple as spamming them with the cursor to chat and offering them gifts. Some have simple requests, such as retrieving a comb shiv, or causing a distraction during shower time. Low opinions can lead to brawls, while high opinions allow you to recruit henchmen to help with scuffles. Despite this element, there really is no story in The Escapists. Speech bubbles pop up often, but it's all meaningless humor, many lines pulled from The Shawshank Redemption and other prison films. Besides, with the constant rush to be productive during each brief period, you'll likely ignore all the chatter anyways. In the end, the inmates are just another tool to help you escape.
"Yes sir, I'm a regular Sears & Roebuck." The Escapists provides a personal crafting system that can be accessed at any time to fashion all manner of items. Placing up to three items in the slots provided (similar to Minecraft), tools such as shovels and cutters can be fashioned. However, the game provides little guidance in the crafting system. Base items and crafted tools have no descriptions and no indications of their compatibility with other items, nor what level of Intellect is required to craft them. In order to build a crafting database you must find or purchase Crafting Notes, and even then you're not given clues as to their function. A pickaxe is self-explanatory, but what about a wad of putty or a cup of molten chocolate? Like with Minecraft, you'll find it necessary to keep a wiki of the game close at hand for reference, although with a little added information in the game itself, this need for memorization of each item's function could have been avoided.