Prison is a fascinating locale — mostly because no one wants to end up there. It has been the setting for many books, movies, TV shows, and even a few games. While a few gamers are interested in running one of these correctional facilities, many more are interested in trying to escape from such places. Mouldy Toof Studios, who recently released Spud's Quest, decided to take its own crack at the prison escape game with The Escapists, which is currently available on Steam Early Access.
The game forgoes the story altogether at this point and just presents you with one ever-present goal: escape prison. There's no set path to follow, and there isn't just one way out of the facility. All that matters is that you get out. As expected, that's easier said than done, and those who brazenly try to get out on their first attempt by rushing will be immediately placed in the infirmary or solitary confinement. This is where strategy comes into play.
With the prison as your setting, you're placed on a very strict timetable. Roll calls, meals, shower times, and exercise periods are always at certain times, and there are strict curfews to ensure you're where you should be. There are very few free periods available, especially if you decide to take on a job at the prison, and you can bulk up your character in terms of strength at the gym or intellect in the library. You can also choose to explore your surroundings to collect items, some of which can be crafted into better items with more durability once you're smart enough to do so. You can also barter with other prisoners for their items or get paid to do favors for them, ranging from retrieving stolen items to causing a distraction or beating up a guard.
After a day of seeing how the schedule goes, you can start to plan accordingly, and the game gives you plenty of avenues to work with as long as you're patient. You can decide to dig a tunnel from your cell at night when the guards aren't looking, disposing of the dirt in the toilet. You can make up a screwdriver to escape via the vents. You can even try to overwhelm the guards with sheer strength and knock them out so you can walk away at your leisure. While you are given a near-infinite amount of time to accomplish all of this, getting caught or killed doesn't immediately end the game. At best, you end up at the infirmary with some cash taken away. At worst, you spend three days in solitary confinement with all of the goods on your person taken away and all of the favors you haven't completed yet fully reset.
The current iteration has a few issues. No matter where you start tampering, the guards can always connect it to you, suddenly putting you in solitary when you least expect it. Should you get placed in the infirmary when it isn't free time, there can be enough guards hounding you about not being where you're supposed to be that you'll end up in a loop of failing constantly through no fault of your own. Those are just a few things to expect in the current alpha build, but at the rate the developers are fixing issues and releasing updates, those issues might not exist anymore by the time this gets published.
As far as presentation is concerned, The Escapists follows the current trend of mixing in an older aesthetic with more modern elements. The graphics support a myriad of resolutions but are all done in a pixelated form that emulates an 8-bit style. The text is thinner, looking more like it came from early PC titles, and the color scheme is expanded, but the character designs, backgrounds and animations are certainly blocky and limited enough to qualify for the retro designation. Meanwhile, the sound effects adhere to the retro aesthetic, and the musical score is more modern with a tone that is between casual and morose.
The game has a solid core at the moment, but if everything the developer has listed on the Steam page comes to fruition, players will be in for a very deep game. Among the planned list of things to come are more items to gather and craft and more jobs to take on. They're also promising more customization options for your prisoner and a multitude of different prison types to break out of. Perhaps the most anticipated option in the list is the ability for players to create their own prisons, a nice ploy to interest fans of Prison Architect and provide players with a larger set of levels.
So far, The Escapists is a game for the more patient player. Those who love planning things out meticulously and playing the slow game will be highly rewarded. The open nature of how you can escape gives players plenty to do at this stage, even if there's only one prison to escape from. Strategy fans who don't mind the pixely retro look will be happy with the game, but those who are waiting until the experienced is more fleshed out will have to wait until mid-2015.
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