The Escapists is a new game currently being developed by Mouldy Toof Studios and published by Team17. Since I was familiar with Team17 from their wonderful Worms franchise, I was excited to try out anything they are behind. Trying their luck at a 8 bit styled prison simulator, The Escapists has entered early access on Steam and I have had the opportunity to spend some time with it. After my time with the game I can say that time flies when you’re in prison.
For only £6.99/$9.99/€8,99 players can get access to an early version of the game and get a good feel for the styling and direction in which the team is heading. First impressions I had were confusion, laughter, grasp of the situation and then more confusion. Now I was not confused necessarily in a bad way, however the level of detail in the systems is great enough that it takes more than a few minutes to come to grips with the gameplay. Your main goal is simple: Break out of prison; how you do that is pretty much up to you. The beta starts with one basic prison and you find yourself quickly getting into the monotony of prison life. As you play, everything you do is timed and the day is focused on routine. You wake up, have a huddle, chores, day job, free time, work out, eat dinner and go to bed. While in a nutshell that may not sound too exciting, there are other things for you to do. Since you are trying to escape, your newly imprisoned character is in no shape to be fighting guards or digging holes. You have to work up to that point. Deciding how you spend your free time determines how you build your character. Would you rather boost intellect by reading lots of books, or is pumping iron more your idea of a good time? Choose your day job carefully, if you are late or mess it up too many times you can lose your position and loose the benefits that that particular job provides you with.
During the day to day minutia of prison, you are also subject to the drama of prison tasks. You know what I mean; Joel stole Bob’s hair brush and now Bob wants it back. If you are feeling up to the challenge you may just make yourself a quick buck. Throw in a crafting system and a way to dispose of items and the Escapists is a fun time that lets you decide how to break out of prison, if you are willing to get down to the nitty gritty details of just how to do that. My time with the game was fun and I could tell that the folks behind it have a good sense of humor and are trying to make a fun game. But in its current state I have a hard time spending too much more time with it. Things, at least for me, were confusing. Text boxes of characters would pop up all around screen so rapidly that I could barely read what they were saying. The in-game clock is so fast that it is hard to do any one thing before you are forced to move onto the next. Literally a single day feels about 5-7 minutes long and it is so crammed full of things, I found it hard to plan anything escape related. I guess that is how it would really be in prison. I also found myself constantly at odds with the guards. One way or the other I would get in a fight which would result in me being hit once and immediately teleported to the infirmary. Going to the infirmary has very little consequences other than having to re-walk to where ever you were before and wasting precious time in your limited day. My other minor gripe is the lack of clear guidance of what exactly you are supposed to do. Again this is something that becomes clear after more days in the clinker, but I could totally see a better job tree or quest list enabled to help simplify things. Maybe the option to set waypoints or reminders as you walk to a certain area of prison would make it easier to remember objectives.
Ultimately, The Escapists is a fun game that is under active development by a good team that is backed by a quality Developer/Publisher. Being of course in early access the game is subject to several iterations, bugs, glitches and has the potential to be completely broken or unplayable. If you are willing to put up with these potential issues and want to support a good developer, then maybe this game is for you. But if you’re looking for something that is simple, out of development and quick to pick up and play, your cell phone is likely in close proximity and casual gaming may be more your thing (Fighting words to some but what are you gonna do?). Needless to say it is this type of article and player feedback that Mouldy Toof Studios need most. They want your feedback! If you get this game please send them a line and tell them what you love. Tell them what you think could be improved on. This may end up being a game of the year contender when it inevitably releases and your help could make that happen!
Thanks to Team 17 for providing Codec Moments with a copy of The Escapists Early Access for the purposes of this preview. The Escapists is available now on Steam Early Access and will also be coming to Xbox One in 2015.