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The Escapists 2

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Mouldy Toof Studios
Release Date: Jan. 11, 2018

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Switch Review - 'The Escapists 2'

by Andreas Salmen on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 12:45 a.m. PST

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

If TV and Hollywood have taught us anything, it's that there is nothing more exhilarating than a spectacular prison escape. A torn-down wall, a dug tunnel, and clever diversions are the bread and butter of the average movie inmate. In 2014, developer Mouldy Toof launched the first Escapists game on Steam Early Access. The pixel-art sandbox game about escaping from prison eventually became a breakout hit (pun intended) for the studio, prompting a sequel that was released on all major platforms in the past year. The Nintendo Switch iteration recently followed and added new prisons, a few new mechanics, and a co-op mode. The Escapists 2 seeks to expand on the intriguing concept of the first game, but is that enough to stand on its own?

The Escapists 2 is a true sandbox game in that it gives us a few levels, gameplay mechanics, and a general goal, and it lets us loose to experiment and figure out the intricacies on our own. The single-player experience consists of 10 different prison maps and a tutorial to introduce us to prison escapes. Outside of the tutorial, the player has total freedom in escaping prison, and the mechanics that were introduced in the first game remain largely the same in this sequel.

Once we start a new prison, we can either create or chose a preselected character. If we are inclined to, we can also customize the prison population, which is a nice touch, but it's dubious that many people will utilize it. Once inside the prison, the guards give us the daily schedule and a rundown of the important facilities within the prison. Then we're on our own and have to figure out how to leave the pixelated walls behind us.

The most important part of planning the escape is to not raise any suspicion. Therefore, it's paramount to play along with the daily schedule. Start and end your days at roll call, sleep in your cell, and attend all meals, workouts and job duties so the guards don't get suspicious. There are time slots allotted for your free time to further your breakout plans, and even if those aren't enough, a clever inmate finds a way around these things.

The Escapists 2 is a mixture between prison simulation, puzzle game and light RPG. We can improve a few of our stats, such as intelligence and strength, and we can complete small quests for other inmates to earn money or buy crafting components from them. Crafting is the main mechanic to build tools and equipment to regain our freedom. While it can be overwhelming, especially because it's never properly introduced, it's the core gameplay mechanic that actually moves the game forward. Most crafting recipes can be accessed from the get-go, and while many of the recipes are duplicates, they are varied enough to give us ample room for experimentation. Between hot chocolate to throw into people's faces, key molds, papier mâché vents and wire cutters, the choices are pretty varied and allow for a few different approaches to getting out for good.

While in prison, we have to learn as much as we can about our surroundings. We need to find the weak spots, formulate a plan, get all of the crafting components, craft the items, and execute the breakout attempt. We can always try to brute-force our way out of the cell by breaking down walls, cutting fences or digging, but there is often a more subtle and quicker approach. You may even be able to disguise yourself and walk out the front door. Every level has an interesting way to escape, and finding the route is usually the most elegant way out of prison. The game never forces you to play by its rules. You can cut the vent cover, go through the roof, and break through an outer wall. The learning curve can be steep for newcomers, especially with the multitude of things to do and craft and a very persistent prison schedule that sometimes prolongs our time.

Simulated prison life is fun in short bursts, with inmate fights and a certain level of mystery and intrigue about every new prison you visit. The novelty can wear off quickly because the mechanics aren't diverse enough. Unless the player actively changes things up for a challenge, The Escapists 2 can become repetitive by the third or fourth prison, even though new environmental challenges are introduced. It's a balancing act between giving the player enough freedom to tackle the game however they'd like, but that also means it gives away all of the mechanics at the start and doesn't change them throughout the game. This will surely discourage many people from seeing the game to the end, especially once the prison difficulty ramps up.

With every new map, the player has to adapt to new environments, stricter guards and security features. The developer also included a few special prisons that change up the pace, so we have to escape a prison within a certain time limit. The maps try to introduce some much-needed variety to the gameplay.

Arguably the biggest addition to The Escapists 2 is the inclusion of local and online multiplayer. Multiplayer consists of two modes: one to tackle the game cooperatively and a special versus mode where the objective is to escape the prison first. While the PC, PS4 and Xbox One versions allow four players to play cooperatively both online and offline, the Nintendo Switch only supports two players for local co-op play. There's no information about if and when the Switch could potentially get co-op play for up to four players, which could mean this is due to a technical limitation.

The Switch version usually runs perfectly, but we encountered small hiccups where the game occasionally froze for a second or two. Loading times can also get quite extensive, which was surprising given the game's simple graphical style. It never interfered with the gameplay experience, and the game looks and plays well in both handheld and docked mode. Another downside of online mode on the Switch is the absence of native voice chat support, as The Escapists 2 isn't played effectively if you can't communicate with the other players.

The Escapists 2 is a well-made sandbox game and a fun continuation of the series. While the title gives you a good amount of freedom and tools to spend your time in fun ways, it can also get rather repetitive and overwhelming. The Nintendo Switch version mostly runs well, although the two-player limitation on local play is disappointing.

Score: 7.0/10

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