The Escapists 2 is a deceptive game. The premise is straightforward – you are a prison inmate looking to set yourself free by any means necessary. The retro graphics, reminiscent of Team17’s Amiga-era classics like Worms and Lemmings, enhance the simple look and feel. Simple and straightforward, however, are two things this game is definitely not. Much like its predecessor, 2015’s breakout hit The Escapists, this is a game that challenges and stretches the player to make and execute a plan while also trying to fit into the daily grind of life behind bars.
Part of the deception lies in the multitude of ways you can stage your escape. You can emulate classic prison movies by digging your way out, or you can access the vent system. You can disguise yourself as a guard or another member of the prison staff and simply try to walk out, or you can go for brute force (though the less subtle you are, the lower your chances of success).
As well as a plan, you will need to collect resources from seemingly benign items, like tin foil and coffee cups, to contraband, such as screwdrivers and duct tape. These can be used to craft makeshift items to use as tools or weapons from an impressive array of recipes. You will also need methods of covering your tracks – bedsheets to cover the bars of your cell as you start digging or fake vent covers to avoid raising suspicion. To get resources, you will need to do favours for other inmates. These will earn you money to make purchases from well-supplied inmates. This being prison, you can slip into other cells and steal what you need as well.
Another part of the deception is the constant need to avoid arousing suspicion. Each day starts and ends with a roll call, and you will be expected at meal times and communal activities, such as workouts and shower time. Arrive late or miss part of the schedule altogether and you run the risk of the guards searching you or sending you on a rough ride to the infirmary – very frustrating if you are in the final stages of putting your escape plan together.
If that all sounds familiar, it is probably because it is. The Escapists 2 does not significantly differ in its core gameplay from the original. It maintains the same unforgiving level of difficulty. While getting caught out by the guards or being sent to solitary confinement does not mean ‘game over’, it does mean you are back to square one in terms of your escape attempt. This is a game in which long-term planning is necessary. You have to think ahead, and you have to be prepared for setbacks. Learning from your mistakes is a vital part of eventually engineering a successful escape. This is likely to be frustrating for some but appealing to others, just as it was in the first game.
So, what does the sequel offer that is different from the original? The main additional features are the multiplayer modes. There are now the options to set-up a local co-op game or go online with other players. You can then decide to cooperate and plot your prison break together or compete to gain resources and be the first to pull off your escape. Simply being in the game with other player-controlled inmates changes the dynamics of the game instantly. Security lockdowns become more frequent with several players all trying (and often failing) to stay one step ahead of the guards, and there is more competition for resources. Banding together with a team of fellow prisoners is where the real fun of the multiplayer mode lies though. This makes the game feel much more like the movies as each member of the team plays their role in putting the plan into action, and it is a cool feeling when you all tunnel your way out or breach the perimeter together.
There have been launch issues with the multiplayer mode, however. Several players have reported crashes and connectivity issues. The developers have been very proactive in addressing and patching issues, and my own experience has been generally problem free. While I did occasionally drop from servers, I did not suffer crashes or any losses of save data, and with more dedicated support and updates, such issues seem set to be kept to a minimum.
There are, of course, other new prisons in both the single and multiplayer games, each offering its own challenges. I particularly enjoyed Rattlesnake Springs and its Wild West setting with the temptation of digging through the old mine that runs under the prison grounds. The addition of transport prisons also adds a fresh style of play to the game. These come in the form of a train, a boat, and a plane transferring prisoners to new locations and you have a punishing time limit to enact your escape before the journey is over. These are fiendishly difficult but add a new challenge for experienced players.
Visually, the game keeps a similar retro look to the original with a slight improvement in graphics (which reminded me of the improvement from Cannon Fodder to Cannon Fodder 2 from back in my Amiga days). The cartoonish nature of the sprites adds to the fun atmosphere of the game. There is also the usual dash of Team17 humour through comments from the prison guards and staff, as well as appearances from YouTubers like DanTDM (fans will be happy to see him, while detractors will be happy to slip a bar of soap inside a sock, give him a beat down and steal his items!).
The Escapists 2 is a complex game masquerading as a casual one. It looks like a fun distraction but can easily suck players into realising and executing elaborate escape plans. At the same time, for some players, it may come across as repetitive as you try to stick to the prison routine and frustrating as you have to change plans or abandon them completely. However, even when the frustration kicks in, perseverance can lead to the ultimate pay-off – that feeling of dramatic tension as you decide this is it and that feeling of relief when you finally break free. With the addition of multiplayer comes the opportunity to develop more detailed plans and nerve-racking breakouts multiplying the feelings of achievement of a breakout well done. Fans of the original will love it, and new players looking for a long-term challenge will find plenty to play with – just don’t expect it to be easy!
Developer: Team17 Digital & Mouldy Toof Studios
Publisher: Team17 Digital
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: 22nd August 2017