I am not an escapologist. I know, in no uncertain terms, that I couldn’t gracefully escape from a particularly tucked in bed, let alone a high-security prison. But that is where The Escapists 2 comes in. Now, I need not worry about being trapped in a faulty elevator, when I can skillfully plan my perfect escape.
That is if I was any good at it. Escaping prison, even a pixelated one, is not easy. Although The Escapists 2 offers you what initially feels like a comprehensive tutorial, the game quickly throws you into the deep end. It’s almost stressfully uncompromising and even more unfriendly. This game does not hold your hand, it’s not even keeping an eye on you. No, it doesn’t need to keep an eye on you. You’re locked up tight, and it knows you’re not getting away quickly.
On the first level past the tutorial, I was told that a useful thing to do was learn the guard patrols. You don’t have any tools to do this, no meter or phantom footprints that assist. You just have to watch the guards wander up and down the corridors and learn where the blindspots are, and how long you have between them. It’s painstaking stuff, and that’s literally one of the first things you should do.
There is a lot of what can only be described as chores in The Escapists 2, something that those with a higher tolerance to grinding might find more gratifying than I.
After you learn when and where you can explore, you should start devising a route. Whether you’ve watched Shawshank Redemption three hundred times or not, you’ll know that escaping underground is the best chance you’ve got to a slightly smelly freedom, but there are alternatives.
You can use the air vents, tunnel through the walls, wear disguises and probably other stuff to mastermind your getaway. There is a lot you can do in this game, and I suppose like in a real prison, the best way to see which one works is to experiment. Although, the digital ramifications of getting caught are much more tedious than what the actual justice system might have to say about you trying to tunnel out of lockup.
For all the design tries to distract you, The Escapists 2 is a puzzle game, with a few correct answers. Patient players that can digest the environment, utilise its tools and harness its secrets will enjoy the unassisted challenge of the game. And while exploring the prison and attempting to learn the tricks is fun, I found myself bouncing off it.
Challenge has never turned me away from a game before, and puzzle games continue to take up more of my mental energy than most other things, but something about The Escapists 2 wasn’t satisfying the right itch.
The planning, for some, will be the highlight of the game. People who can organise and think ahead will enjoy putting their skills to a more authoritarian test than they are used too. For me though, once I have my most likely ludicrous notion in mind, I don’t want to spend all day preparing for it. Gathering supplies to craft the tools needed wasn’t that exciting. Developing my prisoners’ strength and speed in my free time felt unnecessary.
Perhaps this says more about me than The Escapists 2. Perhaps I should look back that the half-cocked ideas that have governed my life and reconsider where I am now. But regardless of all that, I’m sure I’m not the only one to struggle without the patience, planning and something else that begins with ‘p’.
I want my prison escapes to be tense, bombastic and exciting. I want to hold my breath as I sneak through the dark hallways and quietly drop dirt from my pockets. And the game is always on the brink of giving you what you want. The graphics, beautifully detailed pixel art, is bursting with colour and personality. The sly jokes and comical humour peppered throughout each setting are urging you to act recklessly, but it never comes to pass. Though thinking about it, trying to escape from prison is pretty reckless. But when your plans do go awry, the penalty is to be thrown back to square one, where you’ll have to explore, craft and escape all over again. It takes up a lot of your time.
The Escapists 2 is not a bad game, it’s just one that has such a high standard that seems at odds with itself. Time management is not a sexy mechanic, and its somewhat hidden nature in The Escapists 2 makes it all the more unappealing when you come across it. Where it does really stand out, however, is multiplayer which that adds the much-needed carelessness, with less concern over the overall outcome.
For players that enjoy a thoughtful, uncompromising puzzle game that demands a lot from you, this is a title you should investigate for yourself. Unfortunately for the rest of us, dreary mechanics laced underneath a colourful visage doesn’t make it any more interesting.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (code provided by the publisher). You can buy it for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One on Amazon.