Escape was the band's first album with keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who replaced founding member Gregg Rolie after he left the band at the end of 1980. The album was co-produced by former Lynyrd Skynyrd sound technician Kevin Elson and one-time Queen engineer Mike Stone, who also engineered the album.
Mike DeGagne of AllMusic retrospectively 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. Contemporary Rolling Stone reviews were less favorable. 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.
In 1988, Kerrang! readers voted Escape the greatest AOR album of all time―Classic Rock expressed the same opinion in 2008. In 1989, Kerrang! ranked Escape number 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 no. 22 in "The 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time". In 2006, the same publication included it in their "200 Greatest Albums of the 80s", as one of the twenty greatest albums of 1981.Q magazine ranked Escape 15th among its "Records it's OK to Love" in 2006.
Cash Box described "Still They Ride" as a "bluesy lament" with a "sad, almost mournful" vocal, "doleful acoustic piano work" and "crying guitar notes."Billboard called "Still They Ride" a "soft, lyrical ballad" with similar "tone and style" to "Open Arms".