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The Escapists 2

Platform(s): Android, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Mouldy Toof Studios
Release Date: Aug. 22, 2017


PS4 Review - 'The Escapists 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 29, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

The Escapists 2 is a sequel to the sandbox prison-escape game. It features drop-in/drop-out multiplayer via split-screen or online play, and it supports up to four players in co-op and versus modes.

Buy The Escapists 2

Prison escapes are endlessly fascinating. They're engrained in our minds as acts of supreme confidence, daring and skill, despite the fact that most real-life prison escapes tend to involve a simple trick and not a complex plan like you see in the movies. It's also a surprisingly underrepresented part of video games, aside from the occasional shootout or stealth mission in a game. The Escapists is one of the few franchises built around the idea of prison escape, from planning to sweet freedom. The sequel, The Escapists 2, is a lot more of the same.

In The Escapists 2, players take on the role of a prisoner who wants to escape. To do so, players must find vulnerabilities in the prison and exploit them. There are often multiple ways to escape, but figuring out the exact escape route takes time and effort, and more importantly, players need to prepare. Studying raises the prisoner's intelligence, which can then be used to craft items that can aid in the escape. Lifting weights can make you stronger, which helps with escape plans and keeps other inmates from thinking you're an easy target. Players also need to curry favor with other inmates to gain access to supplies or information.

Generally, players should work out a mix of routine and breaking that routine. Stick to exercising, avoid guards, and be where you need to be, but take the time to explore and develop favor with inmates. It's monotonous, but that's both a plus and a minus. Part of the frustration of prison is the sense of monotony and powerlessness, but that means that repetition is built into the game, and that's might be a deal-breaker for some. It hits a tough spot in that it has to properly simulate prison elements while not being too boring to play. Nobody wants to deal with the years of preparation before you escape behind the Rita Hayworth poster. The game remains mostly engaging, but there were times when the daily grind got to be too much. Unlike a true prisoner, I could escape by pausing or turning off the game.

The Escapists 2 works well enough on the PS4 controller but certainly wasn't designed for it. Some of the key bindings are awkward, and it feels like the developers were struggling to find enough buttons on the controller. It certainly didn't sour me on the experience, but I'd much rather use a keyboard, especially since a mistimed button press can lose a whole lot of progress. It also doesn't do a great job of explaining itself, which can feel alienating to a new player. This may simply be part of the learning curve, but it can be off-putting for some.

One of the more frustrating things is that it's very easy to lose time in the game. The guards are smart enough to keep a close eye on things, so if you slip up or get unlucky, they'll find any contraband that you haven't properly hidden, and there goes material that you've spent a long time building up and crafting. Due to the presence of online leaderboards, you can't load a previous save game, so this can be a significant loss of time and effort. It doesn't reach roguelike levels of losing, but it can be annoying. The danger makes the guards feel actually scary, but it's easy to see someone rage-quit after losing an item they'd spent an hour building.

That is where The Escapists 2 shines. It's a tedious, frustrating, and occasionally annoying game that feels incredibly thrilling when things work out. It's exhilarating when you get out of a guard's line of sight at the last second and successfully navigate a complex situation. The monotony is necessary for players to treasure the moments when everything pays off, but that does mean the monotony is baked into the gameplay.  Without it, you wouldn't feel as thrilled when you finally manage to push forward. In true Shawshank style, it's the endless hours carving with a spoon that make the final escape truly exceptional.

New to The Escapists 2 are the mobile transportation prisons, which are a controversial addition because they drastically change the gameplay that can feel extremely positive or negative, depending on what you like about it. Rather than tossing you into a big prison and expecting you to engineer a complex escape, these are more streamlined, focused and guided. You're given a specific goal and have to achieve it, making the experience feel less freeform and more like a traditional puzzle title. On the plus side, this is certainly less monotonous, but on the other hand, it doesn't feel like a true prison break. I think it's a good gameplay mode that should be fleshed out into its own game, not as part of this one.

Also new is multiplayer, which is fun but may not have a lot of lasting value. There's both cooperative and competitive multiplayer. Cooperative is like the standard game, but you can work together with friends to distract guards and find materials. Competitive multiplayer simplifies the gameplay and speeds things up by removing some of the resource management to encourage players to escape as quickly as they can. Both are enjoyable additions but lack the draw to keep players coming back, and competitive multiplayer feels like a fun one-time diversion.

Visually, The Escapists 2 has a cute and simple 8-bit art style that works well. It's clean and easy to read, and there are a nice animations and graphical touches that keep the game feeling fresh. My only complaint is that the graphics are sometimes too busy. Word bubbles can cover too much of the screen, or I'm unclear about what I'm looking at due to the small characters. It's something you can get used to, but there are places where this could've been smoothed out.

All in all, The Escapists 2 is a bigger and better version of the original game. The core gameplay loop of improving your inmate and finding materials and resources to escape is really engaging, even if it can be remarkably boring at times. The new features are mostly hits, and even when they're misses, they just need to be fleshed out, rather than being bad additions to the experience. The Escapists 2 does a solid job, and it's fun to play. Its only shortcomings are some awkwardness with the controller and the general tedium and punishing nature of the game.

Score: 8.0/10

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