I always knew that prison would be a torturous place for a skinny geek like myself. The Escapist by Mouldy Toof Studios reinforced that assumption tenfold. Even though I would be annihilated in a real prison, knowing that I could escape a virtual one would be satisfaction enough. I loaded up the game, started on the easiest prison available and was ready to become the top dog on the prison block. On the first day alone, I got shanked by a comb, attacked by a guard for bringing sheet metal with me while completing my job, became hated by two cell mates for accidentally attacking them at lunch and was sent to the infirmary a total of four times. Well, I guess even in a fake prison I am everyone’s punching bag. The Escapist combines old school graphics with immersive, involved gameplay which allows you to find entertainment from something we spend our whole lives avoiding.
Player Stats 5/5
Do you have a basic idea of how to escape prison successfully? If so, good for you! The easy part is over. For this example, let’s say the plan is to break a wall, use a rope to climb down the roof of the building and walk out the front gate in a guard’s uniform. This is entirely possible, but the first order of business is to increase your stats. If you want to build the items needed for this plan to become successful, you have to increase your intelligence. If you want to survive any fights that you find yourself in, building up your speed and strength is crucial. Increasing your three attributes is done by completing simple mini games. Your strength and speed can be increased by hitting the gym, and the library or computer room is where you will increase your intelligence. These mini games are simple, but also repetitive since the only thing required is either a mouse click, alternating the pressing of two buttons as fast as possible, or timing the push of these same two buttons correctly. I felt these roleplaying mechanics intertwined with the game properly and was overall satisfied with this portion of the game.
Earning Cash 3/5
Your character is now in peak physical and mental shape, so the next order of business is to collect currency. You can generate cash in two different ways, by completing your job, or doing favors for inmates. Without the cash to buy supplies, escaping your life sentence is impossible. Each favor has a cash payout dependent on the difficulty of the task. These favors can range from finding a cell mate’s deck of playing cards to creating a distraction for someone so they can inflict sweet revenge upon a guard. Even though they do not generate a large sum of cash, maintaining a job creates a steady stream of income. Job rooms can only be accessed if you are the inmate that holds that position. This makes certain jobs valuable since some can grant access to roof entrances and secret rooms that can be used to store contraband.
The only issue I found with this portion of the game was the absence of filters regulating the favors. The favors offered are always random, and turning down a task drops your friendship level with that inmate. I’m not completely against this mechanic, but this created unnecessary complications since you are forced to decline every favor asking you to beat up a guard or inmate at the start of each prison. This also became tedious as the game progresses since the same basic requests were asked of you during your entire play through. If the favors started off simple and increased their difficulty as time progressed, it would not only be logical, but would offer a greater challenge to the player.
Obtaining Items 5/5
Now you have the power and cash to finally break free. The only missing element is the tools needed to bring your plan to life. One essential item needed for this plan to work is rope to scale the side of the prison. You will also need to craft a weapon, armor, and a couple other items in order to pull off the plan. Besides looting items from unconscious inmates and stealing from cells, the most effective way of obtaining what you need is by buying contraband from other inmates. The two most important factors to keep in mind are that the prices of these items are determined by their friendship level, and the items for sell are always random. This creates an interesting strategic element and causes you to greatly consider every little action you make. Jack asked you to beat up Bobby who is in good standing with you, but have you considered how much items from him will cost if you follow through with this back stabbing operation?
With the items, power and cash out of the way, the only thing holding you back is your own mind and patience. Executing your plan may prove to be the biggest challenge of the game. Every prison offers unique challenges with a range of difficulties. Each instance gives you different obstacles to overcome, such as electric fences, extra guards on patrol, snipers or mines. Regardless of which level you are playing, life in prison revolves around routine. After waking up in your snug cell that you call home, the guards issue a morning roll call, and they use this time to announce which cells will be searched. If they find contraband in your cell, say farewell to all that hard work. Now it is off to breakfast, which is a great time to socialize, pick up new favors, refresh your supplies of forks and knives, and check out which inmates are selling various supplies. From there, each prison has a slightly different schedule, which can include free time, work out period, the terrifying group shower session, lunch and evening meal, dedicated time block for jobs, if you’re lucky enough to have one, followed up with evening roll call before lights out. Regardless of which prison you’re lucky enough to find yourself in, routine is an essential part of everyday life. If you have any hope of finding a way out, playing along with the rules of the land is always in your best interest.
Graphics,story and soundtrack 4/5
Though The Escapist lacks a storyline, it was able to deliver a mesmerizing experience. What it lacks in structured story, it makes up for by setting the stage for you to create your own adventure. Each guard and cellmate has dialog they will say, creating an odd yet captivating atmosphere. The limited number of phrases detracts from the immersion, but can be fixed with the help of text-speech mods, which opens up limitless possibilities. The soundtrack in The Escapist created a calming effect since each track had a classical feel to it. I did enjoy the relaxing aura it created, but I ended up listening to my own music while playing the game. Combined with the nostalgic feel of the pixelated graphics, the complex style of gameplay made me feel like I was playing a classic SNES game.
All of these little tasks melded together to create a beautifully complex gaming experience that causes you to think outside the box in order to escape……your box. There is one issue that annoyed me immensely, which is due to a faulty control scheme. In order to view a favor or the goods an inmate is offering, you have to manually click on their avatar. Since these avatars tend to group together, this creates an obstacle that can be aggravating. To make matters worse, the game doesn’t register these requests flawlessly, causing you to click the inmate multiple times before finally opening the window. Due to this issue and the others mentioned earlier, I give The Escapist a 4 out of 5.
I enjoyed the immersive experience The Escapist offered and I’m looking forward to jumping back in once the next prison is released. If you would like to check out this game for yourself, you can find it here.