Mike DeGagne of AllMusic awarded Escape four-and-a-half stars out of five, writing, "The songs are timeless, and as a whole, they have a way of rekindling the innocence of youthful romance and the rebelliousness of growing up, built from heartfelt songwriting and sturdy musicianship".Colin Larkin awarded the album four out of five stars in the 2002 edition of the VirginEncyclopedia of Popular Music.Rolling Stone reviews were less favourable. The first review of 1981 by Deborah Frost marked Journey as heavy metal posers and the music in the album as easily playable by any session musician. In the 2004 edition of their album guide, Rolling Stone awarded the album two-and-a-half stars out of five, which was nonetheless an improvement from Dave Marsh's one star rating in the 1983 edition of the publication. The same critic years later wrote that "Journey, originally a progressive rock band, experienced strong resentment from many music critics after they embraced the pop sensibilities of the 1980s with smash hits like "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Open Arms".
In 1988, Kerrang! readers voted Escape the greatest AOR album of all time. The following year, the magazine ranked Escape #32 in "The 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums of All Time". A 2000 Virgin poll saw the album voted the 24th greatest heavy metal/alternative rock album of all time. In 2001, Classic Rock ranked the album #22 in "The 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time". In 2006, the same publication recognized the importance of the album's contribution to popular music in the 1980s by including it in their "The 200 Greatest Albums of the 80s" as one of the twenty greatest albums of 1981.Q magazine ranked Escape 15th in its "Records it's OK to Love" in 2006.