Played on Windows
Also available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, macOS
I played the original The Escapists in 2015. It was an interesting idea for a game but ultimately I didn’t enjoy the experience and quickly moved on to other games, vowing not to return to prison, at least with that series. So in 2018, I’m back in the same pixelized prisons and I wonder how I got here. Well apparently, The Escapists did well enough and then Humble Monthly Bundle for August 2018 picked The Escapists 2 in their Early Unlocks, and once again I’m back in the hole, the pokey, or the big house.
The Escapists 2 starts off with a rather simple tutorial mission. You play an escapist who is being questioned about his big escape. He explains how he performed his daring escape, or rather a mundane one. Now, this is a tutorial prison so he practically walks out but it gives you an idea of how to escape prisons.
The fact is the tutorial is good, however, everything is set up to help you win. It’s easy to escape when the game practically leaves a pickaxe and shovel for you, for instance.
At the end of that tutorial, the famous escapist you played is captured again and I believe that’s the last time you see that prisoner again. At least I didn’t see him again over a number of prison levels. Every prison from there on you get to choose a created character from your list as your character.
The graphics for The Escapists 2 are pixel graphics in the style of the NES, though more fluid than the NES ever was. They look good and almost everything in the inventory is recognizable by sight.
In fact, the graphics make a lot of sense for The Escapists 2 and work well with the theme. A good example is that walls are removable or destroyable, and so that tile-based geometry represented by pixel art looks right. Even covering up a hole with a poster looks great and helps the player to see what’s going on while thematically covering the locations.
You should be able to understand what everything is.
As for the story, aside from the tutorial level, there’s not much here. There is an opening cinematic (skippable) which shows you the layout of the prison but this is just showing you locations. In fact, The Escapists 2 shows you the opening in scenes rather than a full tour and because of that, you don’t actually learn the layout of the jail. It’s a missed opportunity but it also would have taken a lot more time and effort to show a full tour.
But really, once The Escapists 2 actually starts it’s more about open world free roaming gameplay, and the fact is it never tries to tell you anything coherent. There’s just random incidents and quests that don’t tie together. You’re telling your own story about how you break out of prison, but realize it’s heavily put on your head to do any storytelling and there is none provided by The Escapists 2.
There are also a couple of levels that are “transport levels” While these are more themed than the normal prisons, they have less free-roaming and a touch more level design, but again, it’s not a lot of story here either. At least the transport levels are presented with the player on some means of conveyance, a plane, train or boat, and ultimately has more development than just a generic prison that you’re in for unspecified reasons.
There is mini cutscenes when you escape from prison.
So really this is a game that’s focused on the gameplay of escaping prisons. So let’s discuss the first prison after the tutorial. If you thought all the prisons would be as easy as the tutorial, you’re in for a rude awakening. The prison is called Center Perks 2.0, a remake of a prison from the first game. It’s the easiest prison in The Escapists 2 but it’s your first chance to really play the game.
The first thing you realize is that Center Perks is a lot harder than the tutorial, almost nothing is left around for you to find, and much of what seemed simple in the tutorial isn’t here.
You can search other inmates desks, as the tutorial taught you, and move freely as there is a lot of free time to explore. There’s even a two hour job period which only requires about 10 minutes of talking to a staffer so you can easily explore the prison at will. You’ll also find out that free time is not as useful as you might expect. There are only certain things you can do when everyone else is busy.
From there, you’ll probably start to make a plan, likely trying to reproduce everything you’ve seen in the tutorial, digging out. Well, that can work but there are not many places you can dig out from in safety and in reality, digging in Center Perks isn’t a good solution. Instead, it’s better to consider getting out and clipping the fence and running away, the tutorial doesn’t show how to make clippers, but spending time looking at the crafting menu should show you what you need, from there The Escapists 2 becomes about procuring items.
There’s also a second possibility, a phone call (which costs 50 in-game currency, and relatively easy to acquire) hints that you can get an outfit and escape as part of the camera crew.
Finally, the third option in multiplayer is to escape by mailing yourself as a package.
Each of these is an interesting escape but two of these are exclusive depending on if you set it up for a multiplayer or solo game. You can’t escape with the camera crew in multiplayer, and it’s hard to reach the area for the package solo, and even then the game won’t allow you to complete it.
Still, the fact there’s a standard escape and two advanced escape plans is interesting. It’s just a shame that the “perimeter escapes” in this game are often so much easier than the specialized escapes because the specialized escapes are more interesting. At the same time, the specialized escapes are a mixed bag.
The first problem with the special escapes is they are rarely clear to the player, you usually have to come up with whatever thought process the designer of the level had as he made it. In the case of the film crew, it’s rather obvious and the game pretty much spells it out. It’s also one of the rare exceptions.
The package is more normal for The Escapists 2. You really only can discover it by standing in the right place and getting a very slight hint about the crate, or look through the entire crafting system and somehow identifying the 3 crafting recipes out of close to 100 crafting recipes that don’t normally appear in the list Honestly I don’t know how people found this out the first time, but it probably was painfully methodical.
It’s often really hard to find out how to do the special escapes, and because of that, I think most players will either use a guide or just stick to the perimeter breaches, or both. The special escapes are more puzzles but puzzles without a lot of hints or help, and that makes more frustrating than entertaining for me. It’s not fun to look at a wiki to find out how to do something with little to no hints.
Still, once you’ve made your plan, whether it be a standard breakout or a specialized one you then have to get the items and player stats for your breakout. This is where The Escapists 2 will test your patience. With some random luck, the game can allow you to just find items you need in the desks that you search. I know I said Center Perks doesn’t just give you the items you need but with a lot of searching you might be able to find all the items. Or none. That’s the thing, it’s randomized loot.
You can also hide stuff in your desk.
Now Center Perks is again a good example, because the special breakouts show both ways that The Escapists 2 works. The uniform and a piece of equipment you need to break out as a film crew are always found in a specific desk. Grab that and you’re left to only find a rather common piece to craft equipment to escape. You can see me do in the last look video below. Honestly, if this was the way the game normally worked I would probably enjoy it a lot more often.
The second option is more common. There’s a packing label that you MUST have to escape in the crate. It’s required. However, the packing label can appear in any desk according to the wiki. I’ve seen it in a normal inmates desk before and that’s great. However, I played multiplayer with some very perseverant teammates. Rather than restart when we couldn’t find it, we went the extra mile, we searched EVERY desk in the level. At first, this was a bit of fun. We started having to break through walls and rummaging a desk before leaving the room and covering up the holes with posters was interesting.
However we didn’t find the label, instead, it was behind a door that required a red keycard It’s literally the worst place for the game to store anything for the beginner prison. Getting the keycards can be the hardest thing to do in the game. You are forced to knock out guards, rummage through their items, and hope they are carrying a red keycard, and then either copy it or rush and use it. We couldn’t find the gear to copy it so we had to knock out a guard, grab it and use it in a couple of seconds before they noticed it was missing. The randomized location of the label took an escape that we were ready for after a day of in-game time and turned it into a marathon session that took over 10 in-game days. The escape took 10 times as long. Why? Because some RNG put what we needed in the worst location in the prison. It could have been easy, but we got screwed.
Sadly, that’s a big piece of The Escapists 2, sometimes you’ll get lucky, sometimes not. Now the packing label is a unique item and only one spawned, but often you’ll need duct tape and wood, as well as files, and more. The problem is you’ll often only find some of the items you need to escape in desks, so how do you find the rest?
Well, The Escapists 2 decides to take prison life to the extreme. Instead of just trying to find items, you can earn money through jobs or quests from fellow inmates and from there pay for contraband from other inmates. Most of the time this is how you’re going to find the items you really need or at least parts of the items.
Eventually, you might collect all the items you need to break out from prison. Assuming you don’t get caught with contraband, you can put your plan in motion. If you do get caught with these items, they’ll get confiscated and usually put in a place that’s near impossible to get retrieve it from.
If you avoid detection, you find out how good your plan is, and the problem is if it’s anything less than perfect, or if anything happens with the escape, almost everything can get undone. Assuming you get caught, your inventory will be taken away, all the damage you’ve done to the prison will likely be replaced, and you’ll be placed in solitary. Now some of this can be mitigated. You can hide some items, maybe they won’t be taken. You can also cover up a lot of damage with various tricks, but overall a failed plan sets you back to step one.
The same is true with success, if you do get out and retry the same prison or want to try another exit, the game has you start over. You can restart from the end of the run but overall the idea in this game is to start over from scratch. You start with nothing and have lost all your stats.
So stats, we should talk about those. You have three stats, intelligence, which is used to craft items, a higher intelligence gets you to access to more of the crafting list, strength, used specifically in combat, and fitness, which decreases stamina loss for everything you do. You can earn these by different exercises in each prison. Strength and fitness are exercised by different exercise equipment in the yard and intelligence can be trained in the library.
There’s a mini game for each stat, but they are all about the same.
Every prison will require some of these stats so often you’ll have to build them up fresh. You can max them relatively easy, but it’s just another repetition between each prison. Stats don’t go down in a playthrough, but the required stat gains each time you play a new prison and that makes me wonder “Why”?
Let’s pretend we escaped Center Perks, and I actually did it three times, each a different way. Once you’re done with Center Perks 2.0, it’s time for the next prison. So, how do prisons differ? Well, it depends. There’s not much change between most prisons. There are different timetables for free time, and most advanced prisons start adding “metal detectors” which somehow detects all contraband, even non-metal ones. Overall each prison will have different routines but similar events, and similar jobs.
Actually, the jobs annoy me a bit as well. In real life, a job in prison is usually given to a trusted individual, and that can happen here too, but it’s another way of earning money. However, the three or four jobs I actually acquired in The Escapists 2 didn’t do much for me. You do earn money for some work and there are some interesting gameplay mechanics, but there’s not a heavy purpose to the job. I would have loved to have a new chance to get a special item or a way to get some extra supplies if I could sneak them out. Instead what I found was just yet another task to be done to earn money.
Money is what makes life go round in The Escapists 2, but rather than focus on jobs in prison to earn scratch, it’s faster and better to just do quests for other prisoners. They can be completed faster and at any time, and may be worth a little less but you can do multiple favors at the same time and earn money far faster than a day job.
If anything The Escapists 2 hints that prison life is like real life, you do favors for people to earn money then spend the money shopping for things you think you want but might not actually need. I think this review is getting too meta.
The one thing that I think doesn’t work the way the developers wanted is the timetable. You have to go to locations but you never have to stay. If you need to study so you can get more intelligence but are being called to breakfast, it sounds like a hard decision. However, in the game, you can walk into the canteen and get seen at breakfast and then do anything else. Even better, the guards are also stacked up in the breakfast room so no one is watching you. Job time is similar, it’s a two-hour block but if you walk into the job office for 1 minute, you get 2 hours of free time to do what you want.
The worst example, in my opinion, is the “roll call” these are supposed to be MAJOR events. It’s where a warden or prison guards talk to you, and you would be expected to stand in a line and listen. In The Escapists 2, missing it creates a lockdown and everyone comes out to attack you, as well as getting you thrown in solitary. Sounds important, but if you walk into the room or area that the roll call is in and then leave, the game allows you to do anything during the rest of the roll call. Again, all the guards are in that roll call area so you have the freedom to fully wander the grounds since you walked into roll call.
The guards patrolling (or not patrolling) is important because if you’re working on something or if the guards see any damage, it causes a lockdown and the guards will repair it. You often can cover up holes or damage with a poster or similar, because the guards are dumb and believe a poster on the outside of a prison is somehow normal, but being able to do some work without the guards noticing your absence from roll call is a major advantage.
However, the guard system brings up a good problem. Sometimes you’re knocked out, put in solitary or a lockdown is started, and you get into a cycle. If you get sent to solitary but don’t get back to your room in X minutes, another lockdown and a trip to solitary happens for you.
I had a situation where I was beaten up and sent to the medic bay. I then got up and realize roll call was going on, I was late due to resting up in the medic bay, and walked back, roll call was over and I got shot again by a sniper, I was brought to solitary, I peeled potatoes to shorten my time and tried to walk back to my cell. I wasn’t fast enough as I didn’t know my way just yet, and so another lockdown got called and another trip to solitary. It’s not a fun situation to have any of those happen to the player but getting into a cycle where you have two or three negative things happen because the game doesn’t properly give you the time to get from point A to B really sucks.
In addition, sometimes you get in trouble for no reason. There’s an interesting system where you can get busted doing something you aren’t supposed to be doing. It works well but sometimes it feels arbitrary, and while that’s prison life, that’s not how it feels here. The game wants you to go to the job office if you don’t have a job, if you don’t go immediately and a guard sees you, you can get noticed and you get 10 percent of some system which will cause a guard to chase you down. Each guard who sees you on the way to the job office increases this to 10 percent and hitting above an 80 will cause the guards to chase you and beat you. Remember this is the same system where if I walked into the job center for one minute, none of these guards would mind that I wasn’t at my job.
Now there’s the possibility of some interesting gameplay with this game, but The Escapists 2 is too open-ended for my taste. If they limited the number of things you could craft so you can think about what you can do with each piece, maybe I would like it more. There are also too many items to craft, and most of them feel like they have nothing to do with escaping prison, like a toiletry case, or a facial scrub. Neither are really important other than as gifts. Instead, focus on items to escape and it could be more clear to the user.
There’s a feeling that sometimes items are locked to certain prisons, or at least locked out of certain prisons. I found a prison where I couldn’t find wood to make tools. This might have been intentional, or it might have been because I didn’t wait long enough for the shops that other inmates run didn’t refresh enough. The fact that the game doesn’t tell me what’s available or how long it takes for a shop to refresh didn’t help this problem. If this is intentional, it could make the prisons feel more different, and allow the player a chance to be on a square footing with the puzzles being presented
Instead, the player has to figure out what are the special crafting recipes, or what items are available. Those special recipes aren’t signified in any way other than only appearing in a specific prison. There’s not even a color code, and instead, it produces more of a guessing game than anything.
A big addition to The Escapists 2 is multiplayer. With it, you can team up with up to three other players and play the game working together to break out. This is a mixed blessing at best.
If you have friends who communicate, multiplayer is the way to play The Escapists 2. You each can do your own job and gather tools together and then break out in special escapes or even a normal run. Those multiplayer special escapes are pretty fun and working with a team is great.
On the other hand, if you try to find a random game, be prepared for some pain. I tried two games. The first game no one talked, one player constantly got in trouble, and all of you need to escape to beat a level. I did find a second game with two players, one communicating and the other silent but following our pattern.
Overall though I’d say multiplayer is a good addition but I really would limit it to friends or at least find a good posse. Add one bad player online and you’re entire breakout won’t work as they can ruin it. In addition, I’m not sure if you can kick a specific player, so if you have a public game, and a jackass joins, you’re not going to be able to escape if he wants to ruin your experience.
So I’ve talked quite a bit about the game, what’re my real thoughts about The Escapists 2?
Well, the fact is there’s a number of missions here that are pretty great. The transport levels are all great in my opinion. I really enjoy each one. However, every other prison falls into feeling the same. They might be slightly harder, and there’s a new special escape per prison but they all require very similar tools and eventually require playing with key cards and keys which are more annoying than interesting.
Here’s the boat level, quite a novel level in my opinion.
In addition, the randomness in this game hurts it quite a bit because you often have to hunt for objects and the game isn’t clear when stuff refreshes, or even if you’re hunting for an object that will ever appear. It’s a real pain when the game rolls a die about where to put items you want and that die roll can change your plan from a five-minute game into multiple hours of playing because something was put in a bad location.
The Escapists 2 is also a bit grindy, earning money and earning stats could be an interesting system, however, you’re going to use both of these systems in every run of every prison. You might be able to limit what you need from them, but often times the money grinding is about random chance and stat grinding depends on what you need.
In addition, the quests that you do to earn money can “break” or focus on items that are confiscated through random cell checks and that makes it near impossible to get those items back. You don’t have to give up the mission but it’s far easier to cancel the mission and grab another one which can be done in seconds. There are also cases where I got a quest to build something that I didn’t have the recipe for, which I don’t understand why the game even offered that one.
There was also a bug where I lost the tooltips for no reason. This doesn’t sound awful, but the tooltip is what tells you the name of items, and if they are contraband or not. The tooltip is very helpful especially for the early games, and while mine came back after a reboot of the application, I really hated losing the tooltip in the first place.
In addition, a great game takes a number of edge cases and combines them, making you hunt for those edge conditions. Instead, this game shows you the edge cases and then starts to punish you for looking at them, such as getting put in the hospital for injuries and then starting to penalize you for missing the next event, possibly even putting you in solitary.
There are also some rules The Escapists 2 doesn’t really explain to you. The red card room that I needed to access in the package escape above, had walls that we tried to dig through but with no luck. The game looked like we could dig there and just stopped the animation silently. There’s no information to tell us what’s wrong, and it meant we kept trying to dig it for some time without an explanation of what went wrong.
The fact is I enjoyed the first prison I ran, and I actually beat it all three different ways. I feel good about that.
However the second prison felt like more of the same, and I ended up having to look up the special escape and rolling my eyes at what was required. From there I realize that the special escapes and the puzzles to solve them were not something I was looking forward to. I would focus mostly on the perimeter breakouts, but I also looked up the special breakouts and realized that after the first level most of them became annoyingly complex and hard. They weren’t something a player should be able to figure out without standing in the right place. Even if someone was to find the right items, they then would have to also find out where the items were to be used and that added a new level of complexity to the entire getaway.
I completed 4 more prisons, as well as checking out a couple more, and completing all three transport levels multiple ways (those are always worth doing). So I definitely saw a lot of the game.
But the issue I kept coming back to is, The Escapists 2 felt the same for many prisons. I didn’t go for the special escapes but my experience resulted in an average game that was repeated until it became a bad game. I liked my first escape, I was ok with the second but from there I got bored of the repetition very quickly.
I just don’t feel that The Escapists 2 is very fun. It has an excellent system but could have used more focus on a story like escape or at least less freedom. The randomness of the game hurts the gameplay far more than I think the developers realize. Every level becomes a fetch quest, but often that fetch quest is behind doors that are more annoying to open than doing favors for inmates and running on the treadmills of commerce and that becomes a better solution for the breakouts.
The Escapists 2 gets a
It’s not an awful game, but one I would warn people away from it. It works and I played it a decent amount, but my impression from the first game should have been listened to. Personally, I’m out of prison and this time I swear I’ll never return.
Final Thoughts: An interesting idea that quickly dives into repetition and not even repetition I can enjoy. Just watch Prison Break instead of playing this game, you’ll get more out of it.
Stats: 11.6 hours 17/58 achievements
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