Three years after the launch of the first game, developers Team17 have brought on the sequel to the indie hit of 2014: The Escapists 2. The new title improves upon the formula of the first with new ways to escape, new levels, better graphics, an improved soundtrack, and the addition of multiplayer. Despite suffering from some of the same issues that plagued the original, as well as some annoying performance problems, The Escapists 2 is a compelling, enjoyable prison break simulator.
Gameplay: Learn to survive in prison society — and plan your escape from it
In The Escapists 2, complete player freedom is given to you — but that doesn't mean you get to do whatever you want and not face the consequences.
Playing as a captured felon means that you'll need to get used to following the rules. Do not let the pleasant pixel graphics fool you; this game isn't afraid to remind you (often times, violently) that you're not the one who dictates how things go down.
To find success in The Escapists 2, you will have to follow a strict routine of where you're supposed to be, when you're supposed to be there. Roll call, mealtimes, work schedule, curfew — these are a few of the day-to-day events and tasks you're expected to show up for and keep track of flawlessly. If you fail to do so, then the alarm is raised, and you will be searched for and punished accordingly.
Manage to consistently meet your quotas, however, and you are rewarded with free time to do as you wish. This is where the real meat of the game is — working out, crafting tools, and doing favors for other prisoners are all important steps to success in order to reach your ultimate goal: escape.
For example, certain prisoners may have items that you need, or money that you could put to good use. To get them, though, you'll have to do something for them first. This can range from stealing keys from guards, finding an item, or beating up a fellow inmate they have a sour relationship with. However, many things that are asked of you require you to go against the rules of the prison.
This is where the genius design of The Escapists 2 really shines. Throughout the game, you have to balance between following the rules and breaking them. The challenge of working toward your goal of escaping while painting a picture of yourself as a model inmate is where the biggest difficulty of The Escapists 2 lies. Have to beat someone up? Don't let a guard see it. Want to exercise and build your strength? Make sure to do it before or after roll call.
In addition to being the source of many of the things you'll need to escape, fellow inmates are also potential allies that you can befriend. Doing the favors inmates ask of you will make them more inclined to be friendly with you, and even in some cases, come to your aid in a fight, even with guards. At the same time, though, the requests of some inmates may anger others. It's important to gauge who is more valuable to your escape plan.
For instance, if an inmate wants you to beat up an inmate that owns several items that you can use to build a shovel to dig your way out of prison, it would be unwise to assault him and make him dislike you. In some cases, inmates with grudges will attack you, potentially knocking you down and robbing you of your valuables.
Likewise, being caught doing something against the rules by the guards will result in them confiscating your items as well. If caught doing something like trying to escape, they'll even throw you in solitary confinement, where your stats degenerate until you're let out. If you're not careful, your escape progress (such as a hole you started to dig) or contraband in your cell can be found by guards during searches. Guards who have no quarrel with you won't look too closely, though.
Difficulty: Frustrating, in a good way
The heavy-hand punishments issued in The Escapists 2 feel like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's good that the game offers such a strong incentive to not make mistakes, as it encourages thoughtful play and adds weight to failure. On the other hand, though, losing all of your escape progress if you slip up feels very, very devastating.
Having to go through the slow, methodical process of regaining items and tools again after a failure feels incredibly tedious, but that's a good thing. It adds a degree of realism to the experience. Real life escape attempts aren't punished with a simple slap on the hand, and they shouldn't be taken lightly here, either.
One caveat with the game, though, is that things can get overwhelming in the latter stages of your escape plans. With so many different items, quotas, relationships and stats to keep track of, the game can feel very complicated sometimes, and in a title where a single mistake can spell failure, it was the root of a lot of frustration for me.
Multiplayer: Play with friends to break your chains
The new multiplayer mode for The Escapists 2 lets you and players online work together to escape. The gameplay is identical, except you're working with others. It's actually quite fun to all work towards the ultimate goal of freedom — and it's equally satisfying to achieve it.
Versus mode also adds an interesting new way to play the game. Instead of cooperating, players attempt to see who can escape the prison the fastest. This extra little competitive mode was definitely a neat add-on to the otherwise strictly player-versus-enemy design.
Performance: Stable — most of the time
While the game runs well usually, there was a few times that I crashed to the Xbox Dashboard. Thankfully, there's autosaving in place, but any time a game crashes in the middle of a fun moment of important task I'm doing is incredibly annoying. This doubles for multiplayer, unfortunately. Disconnects between players and the host are common, and this really mars the fun of cooperating (or competing) with others online. As fun as multiplayer is, if it doesn't work, not much enjoyment comes from it.
The Escapists 2 wraps superb gameplay up with a retro art style and energetic soundtrack to deliver an addicting, tense, and challenging prison escape simulator that unfortunately is marred by a lack of polish and some overwhelming tendencies in the latter stages of levels. Nevertheless, for $19.99, it's one of the best new indie games on the market.
- Excellent gameplay.
- Tough difficulty.
- Variety in escape choices.
- Fun and new multiplayer mode.
- Annoying performance issues.
- Can feel overwhelming occasionally.
The Escapists 2 is available right now for $19.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam. It is confirmed to be releasing on the Nintendo Switch at a later date.
This review was conducted with an Xbox One, using a copy provided by the publisher.
Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.
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