Title: The Escapists
Platform: PC/Xbox One (XB1 version reviewed)
Developer: Mouldy Toof Studios
Publisher: Team 17
Release date: February 13
Price: PC: £12.99 / €14,99 / $17.99, XB1 £14.99 / €17,99  / $19.99 (10% off for XBL Gold Members)
Family Friendly?: Click here to skip the detail and see if this game is right for your family!

“ ‘ey up, guv’nor! We got us a new batch of inmates here at Centre Perks Prison!”

“Top man, Johnson. Send ’em in please!”

It’s hard to play through Mouldy Toof’s The Escapists without reading the dialogue in a rough cockney accent. (Note, the above isn’t an extract, it’s just me being a wee bit daft for the giggles).

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The original point still stands true, especially when inmates complain about their telly being knackered or whether or not someone’s reached the top of their beatdown list.
The game is one that UK-based Team 17 (Aye, the Worms crowd) have helped to publish, with the game solely developed by one Chris Davis of Mouldy Toof Studios. It’s been gradually growing in Steam’s Early Access programme and is finally ready for a full-time release, alongside a matching version to play on Microsoft’s Xbox One.

In The Escapists, your task is simple: Escape the prison. It’s high time that this fenced development became a distant part of your Escapist’s memories, so it’s time to plot its escape!

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How do you do that? Well, it’s entirely up to you. You could cut a hole in the fence, sneak through the vents, dig a hole, disguise yourself as a guard and more. Relatively speaking, if you can think of a way to escape then the game will cater for it, based on the constraints applied within. Those constraints are based around the plethora of items available and what items can be crafted from those items.

So far, that makes the game seem quite simple to begin with, doesn’t it? Well, thankfully it’s not that simple. You see, some of those items could be viewed as contraband (weapons and tools for example) which could land you in trouble if a random search of your cell discovers them! If they get spotted, then the contraband is confiscated and you’re sent to solitary confinement to think about what you’ve done.

That’s just one example out of many that makes the originally simple task of escaping extremely difficult. Getting the items in the first place is just as tricky, with the game deliberately offering minimal information on how to continue. The rest you’re meant to figure out yourself.

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Items can be bought (or stolen) and tasks like jobs and favours can help with getting some extra cash to pay for a crucial item. All of which has to be done within a specified routine set within the prison, and the guards are ever attentive. They can and will spot you if you’re not clever with your scheming. One lesson I learned was when I just got what I needed to make a cutting tool, but that night I was subject to a cell search. Thinking it was just the cell that’d be searched, I kept all the contraband on my person. Nope, I was searched too and found out. All my precious gear was lost and I had to rethink my strategies.

Even escaping the first prison can be quite a tricky feat until you pick up on the ins and outs of the establishment. Once you manage to escape though, it is an extremely satisfying moment. All that hard work paying off and being rewarded with the sweet scent of freedom is incredible. Only to do it all again in the other prisons available!

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As you escape each prison, another one unlocks with even more challenges. From the initial Center Perks prison to the seemingly impregnable HMP Iron Gate, the game’s six prisons will certainly keep you challenged.

Funny thing is though, there were definitely moments where escaping sort of felt like second priority at the time. Procedurally generated dialogue with visitors, inmates and guards gave the whole prison a wealth of character that made me quite content with just exploring for a few in-game days to see what the gossip was. Pro-tip, spend a few free periods in the visitor centre and see who comes and talks to you. You’re sure to be amused!

The Escapists takes a different sort of road in its gameplay style compared to others that use crafting as one of its main mechanics. Take the plethora of survival games for example, like DayZ and The Forest. The relatively open-ended structure encourages gamers to create their own stories in the game, with very little getting in the way of that (except from other players and beasties where appropriate).

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In The Escapists, a similar thing applies but with a defined full stop at the end of the gameplay’s narrative. There’s lots to see and discover inside each prison, but all of it boils down to that eventual end-goal of getting out of the prison. It’s a great way of keeping things in perspective, even if you do find yourself getting distracted with doing favours or causing a ruckus within the prison.

Its lack of hand-holding may initially be quite intimidating for some, but it provides another sense of adventure when it comes to figuring out what might work. Usually though, common sense will apply (i.e. two files and duct tape can make something). That task of self-discovery, mostly done through trial-and-error, is central to the experience, and makes it all the better because of it. The game does introduce a few basic mechanics from the very beginning, but you’ll be left on your own very quickly indeed.

Depending on how long it takes you to do that figuring out, it can make the time with the game quite lengthy. Even though it essentially boils down to six very complicated puzzles to solve. With each potentially taking many hours to solve, there’s a lot of value for a game of this price.

In summary, if you like your games where you’re left to figure things out yourself, with a dash of humour thrown in for good measure, then you’ll love The Escapists. If you like figuring out different ways to beat the same puzzle, you’ll love the game even more (There must be dozens of ways to beat each prison, I’m sure of it). Just remember to keep in mind the, ahem, usual prison etiquette; especially when soap is involved.

Good Times! :)

  • Fantastic procedurally-generated NPC dialogue
  • Problem solving in planning an escape is not a quick task, blessing you with plenty game time.
  • Art stlye is amazing
  • Despite the lack of hand-holding, aforementioned problem-solving for crafting is quite intuitive.

Bad Times :(

  • Lack of hand-holding may irk some
  • Longevity in the six prisons, but would be good to see more in the future, perhaps the modding community could help with that via Steam Workshop?
  • Hell hath no fury like an inmate that’s lost his contraband

Family Focus

The Escapists is rated PEGI 7 in Europe, making it suitable for a wide range of people. It’s worth bearing in mind that beating people up is one of the core parts of the game’s mechanics, but the graphical detail of this is minimal and verges on cartoony, as much as the retro art style allows.

In saying that though, the game’s requirements for problem-solving and trial-and-error makes for a great puzzler that could be a great team-effort for the family. If you’re looking for a single player game that has a lot of co-operative potential through simply discussing tactics, this could be a really useful game.