Getting into The Escapist 2 in order to find a proper prison simulator might set you up for some disappointment. The Escapist 2 is more so a finely tuned puzzle game with a prison setting and a break-out end goal. That however is not to say it’s a bad thing, not at all.
Be who you want to be..
Character customization, while somewhat cumbersome, is extensive enough, and fun to do. I had great fun recreating the cast of Prison Break, Walter White from Breaking Bad and some random goofy guys. Sadly though, as ‘personality’ and the sharing of a cell is random, you might end up having to beat up Walter and share a cell with your new best friend.. T-bag! This all however plays greatly into the quirky side of the game.
During your playtime you eventually end up unlocking more and more ways to characterize your avatar. Especially the new hats are great fun. My personal have to be the Jason hockey mask and the plush teddybear hat! Exactly how these upgrades are unlocked remained somewhat of a mystery to me. Luckily however, they have no impact on the gameplay are are therefor just happy bonuses you ‘randomly’ get.
Time to get out..
Your first (optional) prison break serves as a tutorial of sorts. That is to say, you play a very short and scripted prison break. This is all well and good and shows you the game, it does however do more to limit your view than explain the possibilities.
What this exactly means is best explained by having a better look into the general gameplay and possibilities of The Escapist 2. The game is divided into many different prisons. As the name suggests, it is your mission to escape all of them. Doing so however is increasingly more difficult and on occasion, more frustrating. more on the frustration later.
Getting out of prison can be done in many a way. In some cases it is possible to just dig your way out (like the tutorial). Later prisons however, require you to think (waaaay) out of the box. There are hints and tips scattered sparsely, but mostly, you are on your own. getting out however, is still the main goal!
This is also where part of the frustration kicks in. To get out of your incarcerated predicament, you need items. Items you can find, steal, craft and buy. Some items however, shine in their scarcity. In our case, the elusive ‘bolt’. Not a particularly rare item by any means, but it took us days (ingame) in order to finally find one and complete our escape. The rarity of items seems randomly determined, and therefor will affect each player differently. It is however incredibly frustrating if just one item missing keeps you from getting further in your escape.
Another point of (minor) frustration is the confinement in which your options lie. For each prison there are a few different solutions. This both prevents you from just repeating your last escape, but also limits your options. Some escapes are highly choreographed sequences of actions or items. And this is all well and good because it needs everything just right, in order to escape a maximum security prison. However, the feeling did continuously creep up that is was the developers choreography, and not ours.
But hey, what you gonna do? It’s prison.. and to be honest, you probably did something horrible to deserve ending up there anyway!
During your incarceration, you are expected to regularly check in with the daily schedule. Every morning and evening you have to be attending the role-call and at a certain time you need to be back in your cell. You also have to work, eat, workout and shower, all at set times! (what, you were expecting a holiday?)
While all these action are good and force you to seek out the gaps in security, many of them feel like they are there just for show. You only ever just need to be there for a split second. There is no need to eat, work-out or do your job. Just show up, and get out is enough. Especially the role-call and dinner are easily exploitable. Just show up, get out and you basically have an ingame hour, free of distractions.
More than enough to keep you out of jail
As for content, there is more than enough. There are many vastly different prisons. Each with varying escape possibilities. Your prison record shows you all these different prisons and escape methods (by name and if you have completed them). Making replaying the levels and trying the other options interesting and fun. Escape names like “Meet the crew” hint at the possibilities.
Apart from the ‘regular’ prisons, there are somewhat more challenge-type prisons. The train levels is a good example where you do not need to attend the timed meetings like role-call or dinner. Instead, you are locked in your tiny cell for transport. You have only a fixed amount of time before the train arrives, no doubt to look you up for good! If the guards see you outside of your cell, at all!, you will be in for a world of hurt. Cleverly combining a timed challenge with stealth and ingenuity, these levels offer a nice break from the other.. well, breaks!
Get out of there!
In the end, The Escapist 2 takes a certain type of gamer to enjoy. If that is you, then The Escapist 2 will be a great and amazing experience. If not, you will probably get bored or frustrated very quickly and end up spending your time elsewhere.
For a game that will only set you back €20,- however, this might be worth a dive if what you see looks interesting to you. The amount of content, combined with the possibility to enjoy most prisons with other players in multiplayer makes this game well worth your money.