Coming 2 years after the surprise indie hit, The Escapists 2 sees Mouldy Toof and Team 17 take the concept of sandbox prison escaping to the next level. On the surface it looks pretty much like the same game with some new maps, but dig deeper and it’s clear that there’s been quite a bit of tweaking and refining, as well as throwing in a full multiplayer experience. Those with a hankering for creating a great jailbreak using your wits and guile are sure to find something to like in here, and those with less patience can run for the fence and pray they don’t get shot.
I didn’t get on with my first escape, finding it useful for getting me out of there, but flawed in the execution that made success more about random luck than careful planning. So it was with some trepidation that I took that first walk back through the prison gates and was shown around the facilities. It all looked so familiar, reminding me of the last incarceration and the punishment dealt out by inmates and guards alike. Would I even survive the first night? Roll call signalled the start of the day and it’s there I got sight of the rogues gallery I’d be spending my sentence with. It was a no brainer, I made the decision then that I was getting out of there early. The only question was how I’d do it, and if I’d try and get some help on the inside. Those first few hours in prison proved to be an education, reminding me of everything I needed to know about how life behind bars works, and bringing me up to speed on the penal system improvements since my last visit. It was clear that this time around I’d be able to handle myself better and run rings around the warden, so long as I watched my back.
The changes might be subtle in The Escapists 2, yet they make a world of difference to the experience. Combat is mapped distinctly to the shoulder buttons and just getting in proximity of a fellow inmate or guard doesn’t result in a fight to the death. Desk and cell searches are less frequent for the player; there’s now the ability to hide items from the guards so your stashes of contraband aren’t confiscated all the time; and the map is very useful now it’s showing all sorts of information from the location of patrols to the objectives you need to complete. It’s a smoother and slicker game than before with clearer direction and better defined mechanics. Goals are the same – follow the routine in the prison to keep yourself under the radar whilst figuring out the best way of leaving. Manage to maintain the illusion of a model prisoner and you’ll start to see the cracks in the system and how you can take advantage of them. Breaking out can be done however you think you can manage it with the tools at your disposal, and each core prison has a signature escape for both single players and co-op teams.
Crafting is the key to getting what you need, and pretty much everything can be built with your own two hands, bought from other inmates, or simply stolen whilst no one is looking. The only things that aren’t easy to lay hands on are keys, but a swing of sock full of soap, some wax and a deft hand, and you can create your own all access pass with relative ease. Tools are made from common materials and have a limited use which can be improved by increasing your stats. What else is there to do inside when you’ve got free time? Workout or read are pretty much the only child friendly options so thankfully they have a tangible benefit. Building strength makes you a tougher cookie to tackle, endurance means you can swing pickaxes and shovels for longer before getting tired, and expanding your intelligence opens up all new equipment to craft. These skills will not only help you get out, they’ll cement your place in the prison by getting you a job. The higher the level, the better the job and the more money you earn to spend on the wares that can be bought on the black market.
It’s clear that The Escapists 2 doesn’t have just one way of breaking out, most of the intros to the penitentiaries will highlight a couple of options. There’s the staple fence cutting, vent traversal or wall breaking, and then depending on where you are there will be numerous other opportunities. I spent a significant amount of time in one prison digging from my cell into an abandoned mine, then picking my way through rockfalls until I got to an exit. It took multiple days to scrounge up the materials to shore up my tunnel, a decent job near a storage room so I could hide the dirt, a steady run of completing favours to earn as much extra coin as possible, and being well aware of where I needed to be at any given time (and how to get there whilst avoiding metal detectors). Patience and observation were well rewarded and that break for freedom was extremely satisfying. This is what I wanted from that the first game couldn’t consistently deliver, and it was all the sweeter because it felt like it was completely my plan and execution.
The main prisons are interspersed with new challenge-type levels where you have a time limit to escape a moving jail, so there’s no just heading to the outer wall and hopping over. Trains and boats make for interesting locations and have you stealthing around more like Solid Snake than Clive the Convict. Grab anything left lying around and craft it into something that will aid in a dramatic escape and you’re good to go. Theses scenarios switch up the pace and add action that also gives you more confidence in the AI and mechanics so you can take the learnings back into the larger facilities. Levels are also semi open from the start so you can tackle them in any order you want, the only restriction being you’ll need to complete batches of them to access the next few, and there are 10 in total to master. It isn’t a quick game either when you first start – until you’ve got the patterns down and what you can and can’t get away with it’ll take some patience and plotting to decide what to do. Just make sure that when you’ve picked a course of action you commit to it.
Has the sequel changed my mind about the games then? Yes, absolutely. The Escapists 2 delivers a charming, humorous and rewarding experience. Whether you’re breaking out on your own or teaming up with friends (or strangers) to conquer the prison, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in getting one over on the authorities. Grab your foil lined trousers, your razor blade toothbrush and your poster of Rita Hayworth, it’s time to get digging.
A PS4 review copy of The Escapists 2 was provided by the Team 17 PR team, and the game is available now on PSN, XBLA and Steam for less than £20.