|Developer(s)||Mouldy Toof Studios|
|Release||Microsoft Windows, Xbox One|
Android & iOS
The Escapists is a strategy game played from a top-down perspective. The game was developed by Mouldy Toof Studios and following a Steam Early Access release in 2014, was released in 2015 for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It was released on iOS and Android in 2017. A Nintendo Switch version of the game containing all of the previous DLC was released in 2018. Players assume the role of an inmate and must escape from prisons of increasing difficulty. Reviews were generally favourable, praising the freedom of approach the game offered players, yet some were frustrated by the trial-and-error approach required to learn its systems. Also some have complained of dated graphics.
In The Escapists, the player, who assumes the role of a prisoner, who must escape from 6 primary prisons ranging from very easy to very hard. Each time a prison is escaped the next prison is unlocked. There are also bonus prisons (DLC) which can be played in any order regardless of the players progress. Additional DLC prisons can be accessed by pressing the "Extra" option from the main menu.
In the beginning the player selects their name then can choose the names of prisoners and guards if desired. Once the names are selected the game starts from day 1 waking up in your cell. Players can acquire various items to aid in their escape by buying or stealing them from other inmates, or by crafting them by combining two or three items such as toothpaste & talcum powder which crafts putty that a key can be imprinted then molded with. Players can do "favors" for fellow inmates, once the favor is completed the player is rewarded $25. Inmate favors can range from getting them a roll of duct-tape to distracting the guards at roll call. A list of current favors can be found in the inmates journal.
Engaging in exercise and using the library allows players to levels up their characters statics such as strength, speed, and intelligence which improves their abilities and their chance of escape. Each prison has their own daily routines, such as meals, work, exercise & showers, a inmate can skip a meal, showers and exercise without any penalty however all roll-calls are mandatory and lock down will occur if you do not attend. Inmates must be careful to hide all contraband as guards will periodically search the inmates desk, If caught with contraband, it is removed from their inventory and the player is sent into solitary confinement, any damage such as chipped walls, broken vents and tunnels are repaired and your weapon is removed.
There are a number of escape methods including inciting riots, via vents, tunnels, roofs, among others. Each prison has layers of security ranging from electric fences to chip resistant high walls. The prisoner will generally need various weapons to win a fight with inmates or guards, the best of which is the Nunchuks or Whip. There are many types of weapons such as a guard's baton or plastic fork.
Development and release
The Escapists is the second game by Chris Davis' one man studio. Davis raised £7,131 for the game through Kickstarter in November 2013, this allowed him to commit full-time to game development for the first time in his career. Unlike his first title, Spud's Quest, Davis signed a publishing deal with Team17 to better market the game. Team17 contributed the tutorial and ported the game from Unity for Xbox One support.
The game was inspired by the 1984 video game Skool Daze, one of Davis's favourite titles. Davis limited the hint system and the tutorial to encourage experimentation by the players. He hoped that by allowing players to discover the solution themselves, they would feel a greater sense of achievement. For inspiration, Davis watched prison films and researched prison escapes.
The game was released for Steam Early Access in August 2014. Feedback from the early access release allowed Davis to improve the game, such as by adjusting the difficulty. It also allowed him to experiment with ideas and solicit suggestions from the player community. Davis stated that, "the community is what made the game into what it is", and that "Early Access has been a really good experience for the game." The full game was released in February 2015.
There are five downloadable content (DLC) packages available for the game.
The first DLC, "Fhurst Peak Correctional Facility" was originally added as a bonus prison for Early Access players, but was added as DLC due to popular demand as an extra prison.
"Escape Team", the third DLC package was released on 30 June 2015 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It allows to play as four different prisoners, as opposed to one. The four characters are based on the A-Team.
"Duct Tapes are Forever", the fourth DLC, was released on 3 November 2015 for PC and PlayStation 4, and 4 November for the Xbox One. It is James Bond themed, with the player assuming the role of a super-spy, trying to escape from an evil villain's lair.
The fifth DLC package, "Santa's Sweatshop", was released for free on 8 December 2015 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
Reviews highlighted the freedom in approach that the game allowed, and reviewers told stories of their break outs. GameSpot writer Cameron Woolsey described tunnelling his way out, Official Xbox Magazine (OXM) writer Andy Kelly, described hiding his ventilation system escape by crafting a fake papier-mâché vent cover, while X-One's Dom Peppiatt straightforwardly shivved a guard and stole his keys.
Reviewers were mixed on the learning curve presented by the game, even positive reviews such as OXM's acknowledged that the game "won't be for everyone", requiring "patience and a creative mind" in the player. Without an in depth tutorial, X-One believed the game "perhaps relies a little too heavily on trial-and-error". Kimberley Wallace, writing at Game Informer found this trial-and-error approach frustrating, finding herself "constantly punished for mistakes and losing progress" due to outcomes which were impossible to predict. On the other hand, she felt this level of challenge contributed to "a grand sense of accomplishment when you win".
Game Informer criticized the interaction with other inmates as shallow and artificial, requiring the player to perform "boring favours" to "just [raise] a meter". Richard Cobbett, writing for IGN, noted that how despite the "adorable 16-bit style graphics", he would quickly perceive fellow prison inmates without empathy as "pure puzzle game piece[s]" rather than characters. He also stated "As a mix of sandbox, puzzle and open-world action, The Escapists offers something fresh and entertaining."  OXM felt the game had character, citing the non-player characters' "amusing non sequiturs and pop culture references". Dan Whitehead at Eurogamer agreed, praising the game's "thriving social element" which make it easy to get "sucked into the petty vendettas and mini dramas of day to day prison life."
Eurogamer recommended the game, concluding that while it had minor frustrations, "there's nothing here that really spoils what is an otherwise delightful and endlessly surprising game". GameSpot finished by saying the game would provide hours of gratifying entertainment, and with the developer working on tools for user-generated content, it could provide even more in the future.
Sequel and Spin off
The Escapists: The Walking Dead was announced on 8 July 2015 as a standalone spin-off being developed by Team17. It merges the core gameplay of The Escapists with the characters, locations and theme of The Walking Dead comic books.
A full sequel, titled The Escapists 2, which introduces multiplayer, was released for Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on August 22, 2017. A version for the Nintendo Switch was released on January 11, 2018.
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