Title: The Escapists: The Walking Dead
Platforms: PC, Xbox One (reviewed on)
Developer: Team 17
Publisher: Team 17 LTD
Release Date: Out now
Price: On the Xbox Live Store, it’s £15. On Steam, it’s £13.
Tagline: 8 bit crafting and mind numbing frustration.
Family Friendly: Click here to read more.
Verdict: YMMV. I’ll explain why.
The second I took one look at this, I was conflicted. On the first hand, the Walking Dead! I loved it when Telltale ripped my heart out and fed it to a Walker! On the other? It’s 8 bit. My eyes are already bad enough, so why am I paying for something that deliberately looks like a blurry mess?
From the start, this felt like a bit of an odd one, because as far as I know, the original Escapists is about trying to escape a prison, which has nothing to do with TWD. But I tried not to be cynical, and figured it must have some unique features somewhere along the line, and once again, I was disappointed.
It follows a very similar formula to the original game; get to the objective point and escape, and by doing so, you do nothing but craft useful tools and kill Walkers. Maybe you’ll do one of the many, identical fetch quests (yes, Lori, your life is so difficult without a sole battery), find a rucksack with a comic you can’t read, and stumble around a building, mashing buttons until the UI co-operates. Anything this game had going for it was immediately lost when the button to equip the weapons in the Profile screen refused to be the same one twice.
Essentially, you craft to survive. Craft your weapons, craft your armour, create anything and everything you need by grabbing stuff that’s littered around the map, mostly in desk drawers. As far as I can tell, a lot of the items appear to be randomly spawned, which is incredibly frustrating. For example, the game was telling me I could create Light Armour to gear up my crew for the barn fight early on, and that I needed a pillowcase and a sheet of metal. Yet no matter how hard I searched, I could for love nor money find those items in the level. Even in the prison level, the only way to get sheet metal was to use the tempering machine, which isn’t in the farm one, so I can only assume it’s another random spawn. The same way, I don’t even think I saw a pillowcase the whole time I was playing.
The only other solution I see around this was that there were vendors that appeared on the map each night, to spend the money you earned during quests. The only trouble is, the Walkers are more active at night, and the vendors are in really weird places that I had no idea how to get to, like being in a room with no doors. I can only assume the old game actually showed you how to do this, but this one just throws you right in. Plus, if you die, you’re booted back to the beginning of the day, and lose all your progress, which I suppose is a decent, yet infuriating, risk, but it was one I wasn’t willing to take. So I forwent my pillow cases and let everyone else do the fighting.
Eventually, the gameplay started to feel like a chore, and when I was getting things done, I kept getting interrupted by the daily tasks. These sound like a cool idea in theory, but when you have to drop what you’re doing just to do and stand in a room or cook some food, it gets annoying really fast. This is something I really think the art style hinders. If this had been a 3D game with voice acting, maybe you could have gotten to know the other characters better, formed bonds, and cared about them, which would enhance the story. But it adds nothing apart from decreasing the risk of Walkers, who are really not threatening. Give me 3D zombies battering down the doors. The only boon of this was getting some items if you crafted extra, but that novelty wore thin very, very fast.
There’s also something weird up with the UI: I could not for the life of me work out what was up with equipping weapons. I couldn’t have Rick use any guns in the prison level, but managed to equip a hatchet fine. I don’t know if it was glitched or not, but it was a lot of the reason why I couldn’t get on with it – a lot of the time, the controls were very awkward. You don’t have a separate button for attacking, but you need to hover over it, or nothing will happen. You have to fumble around in the menu to get to what you want, and if you move the joystick the wrong way, you’re in the wrong part. Plus, there’s an assumption you know how to use all of the action buttons already, so you just end up pressing random things and hoping it works.
Ultimately, I feel the crafting system needs to be simpler. If more of the random objects could be turned into smaller usable things, which in turn could be combined to make bigger, more useful ones, that would make the game infinitely less frustrating. They don’t even have to be easy to find, but a bit more varied, and a let less reliant on vendors.
The final thing I wanted to comment on is plot. I really don’t get why this game has ties to TWD – it sort of covers a few of the comic events, but there’s only a few seconds of pixellated cutscenes and nothing else, and those are so blocky, I can barely tell what’s going on. This is a game about crafting and planning, and while that could easily be applied to TWD, there’s no real threat when the scariest thing is a lump of 8 bit pixels. It feels like a bit of a bandwagon thing, and would work much better as its original “escape from prison,” premise. But that being said, some people may enjoy this, if they’d played the original, and prefer long con strategy games. But for me? It felt more like a chore.
- It’s a cool premise.
- Cute soundtrack.
- More Walking Dead stuff?
- Infuriating lack of saving.
- Crafting system appears random.
- No actual reason for it to be a TWD tie in, plus £15 for five maps is very expensive for so little content in a base game.
It’s rated 12, since there’s no real recognisable blood because it’s pixel art. It follows the plot of TWD comics, so there are going to be a few disturbing plot points, but it’s hardly graphic.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by Xbox UK