Initial Release: 11 January 2018
Increasing degrees of challenges, a simple yet immersive design, and a solid and enjoyable multiplayer mode is the perfect recipe for indefinite replayability
As far as the gaming industry is concerned, 2D games continue to enjoy a rich and stable following from fans. Titles such as Stardew Valley, Undertale, and Shovel Knight are just some of the few heavy hitters that managed to surprise us with their unique gameplay and throwback feel. Team 17’s ‘The Escapists’ certainly stands among these ‘bit-sized’ titans, offering an incredibly ambitious and creative approach to the sandbox genre.
Just as the title suggest the objective is quite simple, “escape” the game’s high security prisons by any means necessary. While this does sound fairly straightforward, the ways in which to do so are anything but. Throughout the game, players are urged to interact with various cues and tools available in each level, all of which must be utilised in order to hatch the perfect escape plan.
The Escapists 2 improves upon its already intriguing sandbox concept, and pushes its boundaries even further. While the graphics and user interface design are a welcome upgrade from its predecessor, it’s perhaps the numerous additions to the gameplay features that show how far it has evolved. One such example is the enhancement of the crafting mechanic, as contrabands and recipes have been significantly increased, which provides players with a more diverse arsenal at their disposal. This in turn gives us a glimpse of how much the escape mechanic has also been expanded, giving a level of free rein in regards to strategy and creativity.
With that said, much like the primary objective of the game, this ‘freedom’ has to be earned in some way. Therefore, a lot of work has to be put through in order to achieve the perfect prison break scenario. Patience, planning, and most importantly, time, are essential qualities that must be upheld when tackling the challenge of each level. Stat building is thus an integral component to strategy, as it is the only way players will be able to access the much broader areas of gameplay. Crafting for example is locked behind increasing levels of intellect, with each tool’s efficiency becoming dependent on how proficient you are in creating them. Strength on the other hand affects your combat prowess, while fitness manages your character’s overall stamina. Maximizing these from the very beginning can help make the game just a bit easier, though your endgame success still depends on your inventive execution.
The game world is quite vibrant and alive in The Escapists 2, with the many other prisoners and officers carrying their own purpose and personalities. Items that can be used for recipes can be found on these character, and are obtainable by means of purchasing, completing quirky favours, or simply beating the living daylights out of them. Due to the nature of the AI and how the game functions, the world affects the player just as much as they affect the world. Thus, your actions can have consequences, which could result in a much harder time. This includes following the prison schedule religiously, as missing them frequently could lead to increasing suspicion or even solitary confinement.
Through the combination of these mechanics, a single playthrough can often last up to hours depending on a player’s familiarity. Much of the thrill actually comes from evading capture in the middle of your plan, as failure will almost certainly lead to a frustrating loss of inventory, and a reset to much of your progression. Worse, if you end up with a five-star rating, you would have to endure a lockdown that lasts a period of time and hinders your ability to proceed any further. Upon being successful however, your escape is graded by the level of expertise applied. Therefore, players who spent a lot of time planning and developing a convoluted escape will be rewarded handsomely.
This challenge proves to be an excellent incentive for playing a level more than once, as the constant flow of trial and error will entice players to study and experiment with the various methods of escaping. The prisons themselves also possess unique traits that make them more challenging, as they often have a similarly varied approach to the players themselves.
Sadly, this also highlights one major flaw within the game’s difficulty, in that it can be a tad alienating to a newcomer starting out with The Escapists 2. Although tips are available throughout various points in each playthrough, there is little to no handholding even from the beginning of the game. While it does provide new players with a tutorial prison that teaches you the know-hows of escaping, it gives the BARE MINIMUM and leaves the player to their own devices from there on. Admittedly there is a steep learning curve that must be overcome in order to fully enjoy it, which might not translate well with players looking for a more casual experience.
Nonetheless, if you have a more experienced friend by your side, then multiplayer might actually fix this problem. Though initially promised for the original game, Co-Op and versus modes have finally been added to the sequel. These modes certainly add a much larger layer of enjoyment, and further expands on what you would normally experience alone. Evidence that Co-operative gameplay was kept in mind during the games development can be found in each level, as they all feature exclusive areas that can only be accessed with the help of another player. It is also through this game mode that we can see the Nintendo Switch version being an ideal platform for the title. Due to its portability and ability to divide Joy-cons for two players, friends can easily share the experience on the go.
Regardless of how you might feel about 2D games, The Escapists 2 is certainly at title you wouldn’t want to miss. Increasing degrees of challenges, a simple yet immersive design, and a solid and enjoyable multiplayer mode is the perfect recipe for indefinite replayability. Although the game does suffer from its own base difficulty, maintaining a level of patience will have a significant payoff in the long run. I had to learn this the hard way during my initial play through, as I had very little hands on time with the original game. Despite becoming frustrated when I couldn’t get the tools I actually needed at first, coming to understand the mechanics over time led to an exhilarating and addictive experience. So, if you’re looking for something to pick up or hoping to add to your freshly opened Switch over Christmas, then this title is more than a perfect candidate for your library.
Verdict: 8 out of 10
We were provided a copy of the game by Team 17 for review purposes