The Escapists Xbox One Review
The neat thing about videogames is how they can take any premise, whether based on reality or fiction, and build a simulation-style element toward it. This simple concept has led to many innovative titles built around the day-to-day activities of various roles, from next door neighbor (The Sims) to immigration officer (Papers, Please) to God (Black and White).
The Escapists (not to be confused with the popular website The Escapist) deals with the daily lifestyle of a prison inmate, though with a slightly more family friendly whitewash where showers are purely sanitary and guards only administer beatings when necessary. There is also the sprite-based aesthetic that takes a cue from Final Fantasy IV, adding a charming look to a potentially controversial set piece. Rather than using their game to make any harsh criticisms about the penal system, developer Mouldy Toof Studios instead wants players to mess around the various features and systems surrounding the isolated playground while also finding a way to bust out of the joint.
Players take the role of a custom character who is required to follow a set schedule each day, which take place during specific times. This includes routine activities such as meals, showers, and exercise, and failure to take part in these group-related routines will result in the guards finding you and administrating proper punishment. Fortunately there are also free periods throughout the day, giving players as much freedom as prison life allows by letting them wander around the prison and interact with the various NPCs. Obviously, these moments are the most crucial, as they can be used to plan out an escape, whether by scoping the area or getting the right item from the right person.
Most items in the game belong to other inmates, some who will happily sell them to you for a price. Just as in the world outside, money is the key factor to getting what you want, but there are ways to earn the necessary cash. The most honest method is to sign up for one of the various part time jobs, such as laundry duty (fail to meet the required quota, however, and you’ll be immediately fired). The dirtier but more profitable method is to do favors for the other inmates, which usually involve screwing over another inmate, such as beating them up or stealing one of their possessions. Obviously, the inmates who suffer a beatdown won’t take it lightly, and will spend the remainder of your prison sentence attacking you at every turn. If some guards are nearby they’ll immediately rush over to take down the attacker, but don’t be surprised if you end up on the receiving end of their indiscriminate attacks as well. This proves one of the more infuriating things to deal with in The Escapists, as it becomes very hard to win back favor against someone who has a grudge, and though you immediately respawn after getting knocked out, you will also lose everything in your possession.
Ultimately, the items you receive are the most important thing to keep track of, as they can be crafted into various tools to help with your escape. This being a videogame, the logic that goes behind the creation of many of these items makes little sense, requiring either trial-and-error in crafting items or spending money to purchase a crafting tip. Once you do get a grasp of the basic stuff that can be crafted, you can start putting together a plan to bust out of the joint. While the interface is simplistic enough to keep track of all of these different factors, it still would have been best handled with a mouse and keyboard rather than a controller.
The Escapists is an interesting premise for a simulation-style game that offers numerous ways to tackle situations and lots of routines to keep track of. However, the cumbersome interface may impact the enjoyment of anyone playing with an Xbox controller, and with the promise of further updates and additions on the PC side, interested players may want to consider grabbing the game off of Steam instead, if possible.