The Escapists 2 Review
Ever wanted to try your hand at a prison break?
The Escapists 2 tasks you with breaking free from a number of increasingly complex and dangerous prisons — from Siberian tundra to an oil rig, with an orbiting space station being the ultimate prison to escape from. This sequel introduces transport prisons, where you’ll need to find ways off of trains, boats or aircraft before you arrive at a one-way ticket to eternal incarceration.
This Looked easier on TV
Though I was new to the Escapists series, I figured that my prior experiences of binge watching Prison Break and beating Spectrum classic The Great Escape back in 1989 would give me sufficient insider knowledge to easily break out of prison here. Turns out, I was woefully unprepared.
After getting to know the daily routines of both prisoner and guard, including regular roll calls and food times, I attempted a bold move as a first step in escaping my fate as a prisoner — catching a lone guard on their way back to their quarters, I pulled out my trusty screwdriver, took them down, and quickly pocketed their key before zooming off, sneaking it into a fellow prisoner’s desk for later pick-up.
Of course, things didn’t turn out quite so smoothly. As soon as the guard noticed their missing key, the whole prison went on lockdown; everyone had to wait in their cells as the guard dogs easily sniffed out and retrieved the stolen key. All that hard work down the drain, but it was a learning experience.
That’s the key to The Escapists after all — trying things, watching how they pan out, and learning for next time. I started developing the idea that I’d use my aforementioned screwdriver to open up an old air grate, ready to stash my key down in the pipes where it couldn’t be found and taken away from me; a plan soon foiled by staff noticing the loose screws and sending the resident mechanic to fix the grating, undoing my work once more.
While the game has a quaint, top-down pixel charm reminiscent of the 16-bit glory days of old, don’t be fooled — the game’s difficulty can catch you off-guard. If you approach the game with the intent to brazenly break out of the prisons, tackling guards and charging out of the yard, you’re in for a nasty shock. Instead, Escapists rewards more strategic thinking. Taking your time, making allies, and learning routines are all essential parts of preparing your daring escape.
The standard prisons reward patience. Spending a good half-hour or so towing the line, following the prison schedule and keeping an eye on guard movements and rotations pays off as you start noticing potential escape options. Making friends inside is equally important; traders offer fine goods and components that are tough to impossible to acquire otherwise, while others will ask favours of you in return for some much-needed coin for those traders.
Transit prisons on the other hand remove much of the openness and complexity of roaming around and performing favors, instead dropping a time limit within which to learn the layout, pick and formulate an escape plan, and find and craft what you need in order to get out.
The ticking clock of the transport prisons soon builds a lot of stress into completing these missions: You only have so much time to search desks and explore, hoping to find everything you need, and oftentimes you’ll find that guards may have something vital on their person, which leads to more risk — each one you assault takes time, and everytime you’re knocked out you’ll lose valuable time as you’re whisked back by the medics to recover.
Crime is better together
While the whole game can be very much enjoyed solo, The Escapists 2 offers a robust multiplayer experience for up to four players, whether they’re working together to escape or racing to see whose bid for freedom is successful first.
Working together in split-screen or with drop-in, drop-out online play, working together with others makes a lot of tasks simpler — one player can cause a distraction while another raids the staff room or digs a hole in a cell, for instance. There are a number of multiplayer-only rooms and escape options too, where you’ll have to work in tandem to open heavy doors or operate machinery to facilitate fun new escape routes. While not necessary, playing in multiplayer does add a new level of fun to the game, helping keeping things from getting stale and introducing new areas and items to explore and exploit.
Gameplay is pretty sturdy, although sometimes I’d have issues that didn’t really make sense, usually with the favors. A common instance would be for an inmate to ask me for a particular item, such as talcum powder, and I’d grab some from a nearby desk… but get no credit for completion, and the inmate wouldn’t accept it. Sometimes it requires you to fetch one particular item from one particular place and, even though it’s identical to ones you can find elsewhere, those others simply don’t count. Othertimes, I couldn’t get the mission to fulfill at all.