By: Quinn Potter
Best known for their Worms series, Team 17 is bringing something different, in the form of The Escapists, to Xbox One. On the surface it appears to be a fun little prison adventure — kind of like Pac-man, but with guards instead of ghosts — so let’s see how things shake out.
Control placement is not ideal. It’s easy to find what you need to navigate the layout of the prison. As you walk the prison grounds, you don’t have to worry about any complicated moves since you will not be running, jumping, spinning or anything like that.
The problem is that when you want to fight (which happens frequently in a prison), the control for punching is not the same as the control for fighting with a weapon. Unfortunately, my reflexive move to hit the “X” to defend myself with a weapon often left me searching for the right button, which left me wide open to additional attacks.
All dialogue is text-based, which can be a bit difficult to read in such a highly pixelated environment. Upper left shows you health (heart icon) and energy (lightning bolt). Upper right shows you coins (currency to spend) and how many friends you have.
The music is mellow, new-age instruments with an electronic synthesizer and some bells. It’s nauseating and puts the player to sleep. It’s also in direct contrast to the game. Escaping from prison isn’t exactly a pleasant experience, so a little more upbeat tempo or modern music might be a better fit.
After you’ve been in a fight, you recover in the infirmary to the sounds of soothing cool jazz. Unless you’ve got a playlist of cool jazz favorites, this music isn’t going to help you recover or make your experience more positive.
The Escapists is not an easy-to-play farce on prison-breakout games. It’s surprisingly difficult to navigate the social nuances and follow the clues that are going to get you out of the most basic level.
The game starts by giving the player a bird’s eye view of the prison. You are looking down at the cells. You will find your character waking up from a night’s sleep, ready for roll call, breakfast, then morning free period.
Other prison activities include work, go to the yard, fight, craft, shower, use the computers, or build up your energy units by eating at the cafeteria. In the exercise room, you can build up your speed by running on the treadmill or build strength by lifting weights.
Crafting basic objects is easy, but crafting better things requires knowledge, which you get by using the computer or reading in the library. The process is so slow that it would take about five minutes of real-world time to attain the maximum knowledge level. The same thing goes for exercising, making it almost impossible to make yourself faster, stronger, or smarter — all of which are essential.
Of course, you can’t do any activities just by choosing them. This is prison! It’s kind of like school. You have to wait for the bell, follow the green arrow, and navigate the prison based on the time of day and the scheduled activity.
As you go about your day, you will either approach or be approached by guards and other prisoners. Like most people, other prisoners start with a neutral attitude toward you — give them something good (chocolate, a poster), their opinion of you will increase; give them something bad (bleach), their opinion will decline.
Since you’re locked in with these guys for the long haul, you’re going to want to make as many friends as possible. Also, avoid the guards as much as you can. One wrong move and they will attack with vengeance. It’s really unpleasant.
The Escapists might best be employed as a deterrent to crime. It will teach players that prison is full of fights, relies on odd social favors, is a bit boring and almost impossible to escape.