The Escapists 2 Review
Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Apple Mac, PC, Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and Linux
Prison isn't really somewhere you'd want to end up in real life. Whilst popular culture reflects prison realities rather well it also adds a certain shimmer of glamour. If you're a big fan of The Shawshank Redemption or maybe the TVs Prison Break then 2014's The Escapists would've been right up your street. It tasked you to break out of prisons of increasing difficulty all the while trying to keep your nose clean by following the daily routine of the prison. It was, by all accounts, a challenging game and encouraged experimentation. Developed by Mouldy Toof Studios, a one man studio helmed by Chris Davis, citied Skool Daze, a ZX Spectrum title, as the main influence. Whilst the setting was different, a school rather than a prison, you can see the similarities as you attend classes and staying out of trouble all the while trying to steal your report card. Fast forward to 2017 and its sequel, The Escapists 2, launched in August and now, in 2018, it finds itself on Nintendo's newest console, the Switch.
When we kicked things off we see two people on a beach in glorious 16-bit style pixel art which looks utterly fabulous on the Switch's screen. There's more detail this time around and really pops on the smaller screen. That's not to say it doesn't look good on the big screen but, like many Switch titles, things just tend to look better in handheld mode. One of two people starts to recount how they had escaped from prison and so, in a flashback, we then take control and follow prompts in the story's narrative to break out. This story serves as a basic tutorial. We find out that we have to follow the prison's routine, like before, to avoid being missed, that we can improve our stats by working out or reading and that we'll need to craft the tools of our escape either by stealing them wholesale or purchasing the necessary components and make them ourselves.
The crafting options have expanded significantly with some items requiring some serious levelling up before we could make them. Since we wanted to break out as quickly as possible we chose to do tasks for certain inmates in order to curry favour, and earn money, to procure the items we needed from other inmates rather than crafting them. In our first daring escape we impersonated a member of a film crew that was making a TV show inside the prison. It was quick, dirty and saw us outside the prison in no time at all. It should be noted that this isn't the only way out and the expanded crafting menu opens up a whole world of possibilities when it comes to making one's escape. Overall there are ten prisons to escape from with a few that are time sensitive which forced us to think quickly and act on instinct more than anything.
One thing that struck us as we tried to escape from progressively difficult prisons was the amount of time we were waiting around. We understand that escaping from prison takes time and the right opportunity but such is the myriad of ways of escaping that we got lost in the fog. Sometimes we just wandered around the prison, aimless, with no real idea of what we were doing. As such we fell into the routine of the prison, trying our best to escape but often failing which, while possibly true to life, didn't make for a exciting passage of play. It's odd when we stumble across a game where an abundance of choice is a detrimental aspect but it does creep up occasionally here. If you have a clear plan of attack after a quick scout of the prison and therefore know roughly how you want to get out then The Escapists 2 is, if you pardon the pun, a riot. However, if you can't see the forest for the trees then it can become a frustrating struggle that, even when we did finally manage our escape, the relief was much greater than the feeling of accomplishment.
This really only happened a handful of times and for the most part every successful escape attempt felt awesome especially when it involved a multi-part plan. However, don't fear, if you don't want to go it alone you can play co-op locally or with up to three other players online. There's not always other players around so you can just carry on solo but if you do manage to get a crew together it can be rather fun. That's not to say your fellow inmates will be helpful and you can even hit up a versus mode if you want to see who can escape the fastest. The multiplayer options really pad The Escapists 2 out rather well adding an extra dimension and challenge if you're after something more.
That said, there's not much else to The Escapists 2. There's no connecting storyline between each prison which is a shame as you could have your chosen inmate have their past breakouts follow them causing guards to be more wary. For example, if you've dug a hole under your desk previously then when it's your cell's turn for a shakedown that could be the first place they'll look. It would force the player to constantly think up new ways to escape pushing you to consider alternatives rather than sticking to a basic set. The AI of your prison mates and guards aren't too shabby but they could do with being a bit more inquisitive given rifling through desks didn't seem to annoy guards all that much.
When all is said and done The Escapists 2 is an improvement in every area over its predecessor. From the sharper, more detailed graphics to an expanded prison set and crafting menus. For the strategists out there The Escapists 2 presents a very enticing prospect chock full of challenges and possibilities. It's sandbox nature begs you to experiment with everything each prison has on offer and rewards players who invest a little time and effort in plotting their escape. However, for some the vast wealth of options and ways out could be overwhelming turning something fun into something frustrating. Whilst there are quick ways out of pretty much every prison not all of them are telegraphed. The Escapists 2 wants you to explore and figure your own way out and that's both its blessing and its curse.