Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: The Escapists 2 [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Escape from Alcatraz. Papillon. The Shawshank Redemption. Stir Crazy. Ernest Goes to Jail. Each of these movies, some more classic than others, have instilled a sort of romantic view of the bold prison escape. While some were more elaborate in execution than others there’s a sense of a meticulous plan being set into motion and if everything goes right the prisoner(s) will find their way to freedom. Conceptually this is what I had in mind while beginning to play The Escapists 2, and while there are some elements for a grand plan available to you in the game in general terms, the solutions to your problems are typically a bit simpler.


At the start of every level you’ll find yourself thrown into a new prison scenario and the nature of what you’ll need to do will vary by venue. The transport-style prisons will generally create a much more active puzzle-solving situation where you’ll have a limited amount of time to find the elements you’ll need to put together an escape. You’ll need to keep moving, evading the guards, hiding where you can when they see you, and looking for the elements you’ll need to craft your means of exit. These levels are about quickly finding spots that look promising for a getaway and then going through your crafting menu to find something that will help you towards that end. With every prison there are methods of escape specific to single and multiplayer sessions and trying to coordinate with other people can add an extra thrill, though it also adds complications if not everyone is on the same page. Given the timeframe and more streamlined play these transport levels are an ideal starting point to trying out multiplayer though.

On the other end of the spectrum you’ll have full-on prisons and a very different style of play overall, though in the end there are more similarities than you may think. With these scenarios you’re going to have to conform to the daily routine, showing up for daily roll calls, meals, exercise time, etc. Failure to do so will raise the alert level so you’ll need to figure out how to quickly fulfill your minimum obligation and then get back to your plan. You’ll generally need to work on raising your intellect (the higher it gets the more you can craft) as well as your fitness and strength (good for when you get into fights and for getting different jobs). In order to find materials to craft various weapons or gear with you’ll need to be sneaky and search desks anywhere you see one (just be sure not to be seen) or you’ll need to earn money to outright buy supplies from one of the other prisoners. You’ll slowly gain money through working your prison job but more often you’ll want to offer to complete tasks for other inmates. Aside from earning some scratch these often provide an opportunity to look for things of use as you go, making them doubly beneficial.


In terms of problems I’d say the biggest misunderstanding I had with the game, and it took a while before it sank in, is in terms of scope and what you really need to do. Since the sandbox is quite large and there’s so much to be distracted by you can pretty easily meander and make very little productive progress. While it does provide you a reasonable tutorial that helps walk you through the game’s various systems and tasks it doesn’t really give you much insight into what your process to determine how to escape should be. Make no mistake, for each prison there are only a finite number of ways you’ll be getting out, some that are for single-player and some that are for multiplayer. Essentially anything you’re doing that isn’t advancing you to towards that goal can be fun for a while, and add to the experience, but is still wasted time. The game systems are there to make it immersive, not necessarily because you’re supposed to sink a ton of time into them. In general I found meticulously going through your crafting options to familiarize yourself with what is possible to be the key, you’ll usually find something that stands out and would seem to provide you with an opportunity. Armed with that knowledge it then provides a clear direction and things you’ll need to gather to then work out how best to use them. That or, if all else fails, you could always look for tips online as well.

I think one of the keys to enjoying The Escapists 2 is understanding both what it is and isn’t. If you approach it like a sandbox game you’ll be able to have some fun for a while simply going through the daily prison routine, and it can be interesting for a while, but that won’t generally advance you towards escape. It all revolves around looking for anything unusual in the circumstances you find yourself in that will provide an opportunity, scanning your crafting list for anything that stands out, and then putting together your means of escape through trial and error. If the game would organically provide tips on what you’ll want or need to do through the grapevine, or as a reward for turning in favors (or even money) it may not have always been quite as aggravating. Without a doubt it is a unique title and for people who enjoy challenging themselves with something different it should deliver, you just may want to look at a strategy guide if you’re feeling lost.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • So many things to craft for both escape and survival
  • Transport prisons shake up the formula nicely and provide variety
  • The difficulty of crafting your means of escape ramps up slowly per prison (once you know what you need to do)

Cons:
  • You can easily drop a lot of time without making any meaningful progress if you can’t figure out what you need to do
  • There seem to be no in-game systems for helping you determine a method of escape
  • While there are many items that can be crafted there are precious few you typically need to bother with