The Escapists may look like a 16-bit style, top-down prison escape simulator with a nod to those ancient games from the ZX Spectrum era, but it plays with as much depth and intricacy as the mightiest of modern games. Escaping from Her Majesty’s Pleasure has never been so freeform, frustrating or rewarding.
Do you take your porridge or make a great escape?
Subscribe to GameWatcher YouTube Channel for our latest upcoming PC video features!
Only a few things in life can be as pleasurable as planning an intricate escape, executing it and walking away from a prison a free man or woman. I’m speaking from experience as my time with The Escapists was spent doing exactly that… and failing spectacularly
From a choice of several prisons, all increasing in difficulty, your sole task is to escape. Though the premise and visuals are simple The Escapists succeeds by having a huge amount of depth and variety hidden within its pixel art blocks. You can escape by tunnelling under the fence, cutting through it or make yourself such a nuisance that the governor just opens the gate to get rid of you (my favourite!)
Move your stash before a cell shakedown or it'll get confiscated
It’s not an easy open-plan prison though as you’ll need to keep to the strict schedules imposed by your Screws. Any deviation and you’ll be on the receiving end of a mild beating and end up in the infirmary. Depending on how strict the prison is you’ll receive a few in game hours of free time each day and it’s here that your grand plan must take form.
There are a multitude of items in the game and a crafting system that’s essential to master in order to proceed. Mixing a sheet and two pillows for example makes a decoy for your cell leaving you the freedom to sneak around at night, combine a sock with some soap and you get a weapon for knocking out guards. Nearly all the items in the game can be combined with another to get something useful and it leads to an incredible feeling of openness with what you can do. It’s a bit of an arcane procedure though and involves a fair amount of trial and error.
All these options doesn’t mean The Escapists is easy, on the contrary it’s right up there with Dark Souls for being a complete arse if you screw up. Any holes or tunnels you make have to be properly hidden or the guards will find them, they do that and it’s usually game over or at least a beating with your items confiscated and a few days in solitary.
In the beginning you’ll also find it difficult to make progress as each prison really needs to be lived in before you can make a move. Taking part in the schedule isn’t just good for survival or keeping up appearances as some of it is essential to keep fit and strong enough to actually dig your way out of prison. There are three main stats to keep up with - speed, strength and intellect which need to be improved and maintained by visits to the library or the gym.
One of the best moments in the game by far
As the prisons get more difficult to break out of you won’t just have to get under or through the fence, which incidentally becomes electrified later on. The area beyond the prison can be mined and checkpoints mean you have to go the whole Great Escape and procure uniforms and identification to make your full escape.
There’s also relationships inside that you can cultivate and exploit. Each prisoner will have their own items or stash and you can bribe, barter or just beat up in order to acquire their stuff. Guards can randomly start beating you up or other inmates and a full-blown riot isn’t out of the question if things get out of hand.
All this means The Escapists is an incredible achievement if you’re after a bizarre mix of Hitman coupled with Prison Architect. The amount of choice and openness to make your own escape and come away with a unique story is thrilling and while other games strive for expansive open-worlds, The Escapists does a better job by boxing us in and forcing us to think in new and devious ways.
Even in the slammer you can't escape a Skyrim joke
All this effusive praise doesn’t mean The Escapists is perfect or will appeal to all gamers. If you’re a fan of the Hitman series or enjoyed the slow planning needed for success at Dark Souls then The Escapists will be nectar to your gaming proboscis. If on the other hand you prefer games a little more linear or hand-holdy then this is going to be a struggle for you. The Escapists offers a brief tutorial that barely scratches the surface of what the game can offer and the real depth and fun comes with taking your time and planning your escape carefully.
THE ESCAPISTS VERDICT
I’m pretty sure this won’t appeal to a lot of people. It can be bone-crushingly hard at times and difficult to get into. But by giving you the tools to craft your own escape and leaving you alone to sort it out, The Escapists is one of those classic hands-off games that encourages you to create your own story and incredible moments.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Causing so much trouble that the warden lets you out!