Returning for another stint in the slammer, The Escapists 2 is the sequel to the popular prison escape sim bringing co-op and moving prisons to the table this time around – but is that enough to entice players new and old?
After hearing good things about the first game I was excited to sit down and play The Escapists 2, and for the most part the game lived up to my expectations. If, like me, you missed it the first time round the basic premise is a simple one – you are incarcerated and it is up to you how you go about escaping. Each of the 11 prisons have their own look and feel, from the layout of the prison down to the day-to-day routine you must follow in order not to raise suspicion as you carry out your tinkering and plotting your escape. Meal times, roll call and a daily exercise requirement all make up part of your day-to-day routine, with the prison going into alert if you miss any of these allotted activities.
Starting out I found that following the little yellow arrow that directed me to each task was a good place to begin as I got to grips with the layout of each prison, and it was good testing how far I could push the boundaries during the initial few prisons that I found myself in – how long could I push it before the guards became suspicious? If I just pop in the canteen for a second then get back to the illicit activity I was previously occupied with would the guards immediately track me down? After a few in-game days I quickly felt like a hardened criminal, knowing the routine and what I could get away with, with a good idea of what I could get away with.
Clicking on each little character as they each go about their own routine allowed me to interact with them and find out various stats, such as time served and their opinion of me, which could be swayed with gifts or favours indicated by a green exclamation mark bopping over their heads. Guards too can be appeased by giving gifts, or if they catch you up to no good then their opinion of you will swing the other way and perhaps hinder your upcoming escape. Plotting and planning in advance is the key in The Escapists, from working out the exits and entrances, the weak spots in the layout or maybe even gaps in security. So far I have never got as sophisticated as plotting guard patrols and knowing where they will be and when, but the game assures me that this is possible if I wanted to do it. Should you get stuck there is often some hint or tip lying around the prison that can point you in the right direction should you need it, indicated on the mini-map by a large letter ‘I’.
Exploring the prison is a good way to get to know your fellow inmates too. Many have favours that you can complete in return for coins that can be used to buy contraband or other items, which in turn can then be used to craft more intricate tools to aid your escape. Some of these are obvious ones like a grappling hook or a poster that can be used to cover a hole in the wall (think Shawshank Redemption), while border on the downright silly, such as crafting a fake carrot to lure a horse as you make your escape from a moving train. These all work well within the context of the game, but don’t go looking for any sense of realism as the Escapists 2 has its tongue planted firmly in cheek, and it works.
Although there are a large range of items that can be crafted, the crafting system is a relatively simple one, with each item detailing a handy little recipe that explains what you need in order to create it when accessed from the inventory screen. Some of the more desirable items are locked behind an intelligence stat that can be raised by studying books found in the prison library. Alongside intelligence other stats also impact on what is available, for example maybe you want a certain job to gain access to a particular part of the prison or an item that you have been unable to locate in the general population areas? You might have to increase your strength by visiting the prison gym, or even discredit a prisoner that has the job now so that they get sacked and the position becomes available for you to swoop in. At first glance the systems look all rather intricate and complicated, but the largest obstacle in The Escapists 2 is sticking to the timetable and being at certain places at certain times while your escape plans bubble away on the periphery so that you don’t raise any suspicions.
By completing favours and locating items hidden in desks or found around the prison many of the objects can be quite easily procured should you know where to look or have a plan in mind. Wandering round aimlessly is a fruitless task, and quickly The Escapists 2 comes down to simply testing your luck to see what breaks. Sticking to the routine is good, but it is never going to break you out of jail. Should you be caught out-of-bounds or with contraband in your possession then a swift beat down by the guards might be in order, with a medic rushing in and picking up your dazed body to rush you to the hospital bay where you get to sleep it off, returning to try again as soon as you are back on your feet. This is the extent of any “death” that you are likely to experience, with the worst consequence often that any illegal items you may have had in your possession getting confiscated, which can be an annoyance to say the least. I would often hide my more illicit items in my desk, which made for a tense roll call as the guards would announce whose cell was about to be searched, or if I had done enough to raise the alert status so that the guards brought the dogs in sniffing about.
The alert status works in a way we are all familiar with – the more things you are caught doing, or should you miss a daily activity, the security level of the prison will increases indicated by raised stars under the mini map in the corner of the screen. A high security level means more guards will be on patrol, until ultimately the prison goes into lockdown, with anyone caught out ending up in solitary where you can pass the time peeling potatoes as you think about what you have done.
All these little details work in such a way that The Escapists 2 is a fun little foray into life as a con, but ultimately I found it to be lacking any real depth. Yes the game is fun, but upon escaping one prison it was simply a case of dusting myself down and starting all over again in the next one. Doing certain tasks would often unlock various customisation items to create my own little prisoner, but besides that there was no real incentive or motivation other than getting out. Upon completion each successful escape is awarded a grade, with items crafted, guards knocked out and time taken some of the metrics that count towards it, but for some of these I didn’t know if it was better to have more or less in order to achieve the better grade – am I awarded for crafting lots of items, or getting out having crafted hardly anything at all? Besides the obvious time factor the game doesn’t specify, so the grading system felt a bit unnecessary without further explanation or goals in mind.
One of the newer features added to the Escapists 2 is co-op, with a versus mode in which you and up to three others are tasked with seeing who can escape first, either locally or online. I was able to test this mode out briefly with a spare controller I had lying about, but I can see the real fun in working together cooperatively to escape prisons as opposed to out do one another as the versus mode encourages you to do, and this is something I look forward to testing once the game is officially released.
Ultimately I did enjoy playing The Escapists 2. The mechanics all work well together to create a game that is easy to pick up and play, but behind all the systems and mechanics I found it to be quite a shallow experience. I will return to it no doubt to fully test out the multiplayer aspects that are new this time around, but besides that I am not sure what there is to entice returning players who are already familiar with the first entry in the series. If you are like me and missed the previous game then there is a lot to like here, but don’t expect it to become your next time-sink. Exploring the prisons is fun, and you might want to return to a few of the more original ones a couple of times to test out different escape routes if that’s your thing but I found once I’d done it I was on to the next one like some prison tourist on an all-inclusive – if that sounds like your ideal holiday then before you go and get yourself arrested, maybe give The Escapists 2 a go.
The Escapists 2 PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7.5/10
Fancy living out your Great Escape fantasies? Or maybe you reckon Alcatraz was for wimps? Either way The Escapists 2 is here to allow you to do just that as the prison escape sim returns, and this time you get to being a friend to do time with you.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using base PS4.
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Stuart has had a long and lengthy love affair with video games, since he first woke up to find Santa had left him a Sega Master System complete with Alex the Kidd built in no less. Since then, his thumbs have become calloused and he has missed many a nights sleep in the pursuit of those elusive “5 more minutes…” but his love has never wavered.