Serving time with friends.

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Team17, an indie game company released The Escapists 2 after the original became a bit of a sleeper hit. We have a charming and nostalgic game with excellent old style graphics in an environment where you can do pretty much whatever you want. Well, at least until the guards catch you and beat you into submission.

In Escapists you are a convict who is trying to break out of increasingly difficult (and absurd) prisons. You are dropped into the prison without a lot of background, and a lot of the game is trial and error. Games like this can easily become frustrating, but this is rarely the case in escapists. Despite a fairly sharp difficulty, the game never felt cheap to me.

Each prison has several ways to escape, so you have a bit of freedom in determining what course of action should be taken. The most straightforward way, digging or breaking down walls, is actually more difficult than some of the seemingly more complicated options. Finding a different pair of clothes and making a fake boom mic will allow you to leave with a crew of documentarians. Sounds complicated? This is actually the easiest escape to pull off.

A huge plus for the game is that it offers local and online coop. I must say that playing this game with a friend is nearly a must for the highest enjoyment possible. You will meticulously plan, craft, and survey your path only to screw it up and have to start over. If a guard catches you doing something wrong, they will attack relentlessly. All contraband is taken, desks are searched (save a hidden compartment with limited room), and any damage to the prison is repaired immediately. It can be devastating to see hours of work evaporate in an instant, but that is what this game is all about.

The game balances cartoony humor with thoughtful gameplay. Don’t let the old school graphics and snarky dialogue fool you, these guards will kick your ass without a second thought. If things get too bad they will send in armored units and dogs—I don’t think it is possible to get away from the dogs.

Failure comes frequently, but it becomes a major learning process. We knew we needed a guard’s key, so we jumped him and stole it. Once the key was noticed missing (almost immediately) the prison went into full lockdown and we scrambled toward our goal. Ultimately, after a good mauling from a prison pup we ended up in the infirmary. Something had gone wrong—what do we do? In this instance we learned that you have to make an imprint of a key and then drop the real thing quickly. Then you can craft a plastic key that will allow you a few uses without drawing attention.

The game gives you the keys for success, but doesn’t hold your hand. We failed dozens of times before trying something new. Alone, I could see this game getting frustrating quickly, but with a second person it felt like an endless puzzle.

The game is inexpensive, fun, and provides a lot of options for you to explore. The game is not perfect, though. Almost every escape relies on crafting. Components can be found by theft, bought with your prison wages or running favors, or taken off unconscious prisoners or guards. There is a desperation in the search as you frantically run against the prison regime. Miss meal time and the security level increases. Miss roll call and the entire place goes into swift lockdown.

Where the problems of the game come in is that some of these components have too low of a drop rate. We spent nearly four hours in a prison waiting for a final component to appear in a desk or for sale. It became an exercise in monotony. This did not always happen, but as the escapes become more intricate, so do the requirements. A simple solution for this would be to have the vendors sell everything (perhaps at a higher price?). Allowing some way for people to get what they need would reduce the reliance on a finicky RNG.

The primary ways of getting money are a bit repetitive, but you don’t have to buy anything. I think it is actually wise to gatekeep store-busting in this regard. Granted, some have complained that the repetitive jobs and favors become old. I can see their point, but it felt like something you’d actually have to do in a prison for me. Working a dumb job or running deliveries for another prisoner force another level of time management.

Aside from traditional prisons, there are now mobile prisons that you must break out of in a certain amount of time. These prisons more or less fall into: play hide and seek while looking for components, or beat the crap out of everything while looking for components. These levels do offer a bit of a break, but the linear nature and lack of options make them the lesser of the prison types.

This game offers a bit of a break from super-serious AAA games. It is a fun and challenging experience that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I think most will grow to enjoy this thoughtful little puzzler despite its flaws. 7.5/10

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