Although I own The Escapists, I didn’t play much of it. It didn’t quite grip me. Given that, I had a vague idea of how The Escapists 2 would play going into it, but I ultimately was going in relatively blind. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has led to the game taking me quite some time to complete, with Central Perks 2.0 requiring two four-hour attempts for me to complete on its own—I’ll get to why in a bit. Ultimately, I want to wait until I’ve completed each of the game’s prisons once to write a full review, but we’re already a ways past the game’s release, so I wanted to publish some thoughts on what I’ve played thus far.
The first thing that I did upon loading up The Escapists 2 was drop into the first transport prison. Mouldy Toof had been boasting the new addition to the series for some time and I wanted to check it out. This turned out to be a really bad idea. Transport prisons are built to resemble actual transport prisons. You’ve only got the entirety of the time that you’re being transported to find a way to escape and, as you’re simply being transported, there is no routine. Instead, you’re simply not supposed to leave your cell. Due to these restrictions, the game’s versions of transport prisons largely revolve around simplistic puzzles; find this or that and escape as soon as possible while avoiding guards following simplistic routes in small spaces in the process.
Adding these was a nice touch, but allowing players to drop straight into one might lead to some confusion. If, like me, you didn’t play much of The Escapists, you don’t really have any idea what to expect and the rules of these are unclear, completely different than those of the tutorial’s more traditional prison. I’ve played through the entire game with Kat thus far and, tragically, we were able to figure out a way to escape, losing literally in the exact moment that I hit the use button to carry out the final action that would have led to our escape. We later went back and completed the prison—we had to in order to unlock later prisons—but the defeat was rather discouraging and felt as if it could have been avoided by, for example, requiring players to play through Central Perks 2.0 before attempting any of the themed prisons.
Normal prisons are completely different from transport prisons. You could literally spend an eternity in a normal prison and never escape. In normal prisons, all that matters is that you follow the daily routine in which you go to meals, do work for your prison job, work out, go to roll call, and so on, all the while trying to sneak in little bits of time here and there to begin hatching an escape plan and carrying it out. You get half a star in increased security for each player that misses each part of the routine—reaching upwards of a total of two stars if an entire four-player group misses a single part of the routine—up to five stars. The security level will drop a certain amount each day until it reaches zero again. You really want to keep this down, as reaching a higher level of security could lead to the thwarting of any attempts at escape before you even begin to attempt to escape.
Because of the way that the system works, your entire prison life is a balance of trying to get the resources you need in the smallest bits of free time that you can while diverting suspicion from yourself. To the developers’ credit, there is a lot of nuance involved in this. So long as you visit the location in which the current routine event is occurring, you can spend the entirety of that event’s time doing whatever you want. You don’t have to eat lunch, as long as you go to the cafeteria, but you might want to, as previous efforts might have left you low on stamina.
However, it’s not always as simple as scheming in free time. There are a few prerequisites to any escape attempt. The majority of your attempts will require tools, which you will need resources for. There are several ways to acquire these resources; you can steal them from another prisoner’s desk, find them in other desks that are scattered throughout the prison, beat up prisoners and prison guards and take what they have on them, buy them from other prisoners that have a high opinion of you, or, in some prisons, get them from visitations. Because each and every one of these options is completely random, with desks and prisoners that sell items restocking with random resources each day, it can sometimes feel as if even the most carefully calculated plans could take forever. For example, deciding to dig your way out of the prison could take hours, as you simply might not come across the amount of files and sheets of metal that you need to produce the number of high-tier shovels that you need to get out.
It’s also not as simple as just having the resources. You also have to actively increase your stats, primarily your Intelligence. Your Intelligence level determines what you can craft, with new recipes unlocking every 10 points until 70 points. You can also increase Strength and Fitness, which could help with combat, but they’re not quite as crucial as Intelligence is. Early on, you will really want to spend your blocks of Free Time increasing your Intelligence, so that the recipes you need are simply available to you. You will also want to take a careful look at each of the recipes that are unlocked, as different prisons have slightly different sets of recipes.
The relationships that you form can also affect things in rather significant ways. If you’re constantly wailing on a prisoner or prison guard, their opinion of you will drop and they will constantly try to find random reasons to beat you up; prison guards will even resort to simply following you around because they can. These effects can severely limit your ability to carry out a plan and, if you’re constantly getting beat up, can even completely ruin your plans, as getting beat up will cause any contraband on you to be removed from your person, never to be seen again. In addition to balancing your schedule, you will really want to balance your interactions with others in the prison. The only way to really improve relationships is to gift them items or money and it can be quite costly, so it’s best to simply be careful.
Depending on your plan, however, it may not be easy to keep up a good rapport with everyone. Guards carry keys and key cards, which, if you’re careful, you can create copies of without being caught. Unfortunately, literally the only way to find out who has what key or keycard on them is to knock them unconscious, damaging their opinion of you. Once you’ve found a key or keycard, it will show above that guard’s head on the minimap, but, if you need a specific one and you’re not having any luck finding it, you may very well end up irritating the entire staff in the process.
The Escapists 2 also boasts tons of other little nuances. You can hide a certain amount of items in a hidden part of your desk, which keeps them safe during desk searches. In early prisons, the only way that your desk is searched is if you somehow raise the security level significantly by, say, stealing a key or keycard instead of returning it or opening a vent without hiding what you’ve done; you won’t be selected in random desk checks. Later on, this changes and the value of this hidden part of your desk increases significantly, also limiting your ability to keep vast amounts of contraband.
If you do happen to be chased by a prisoner or prison guard, you can hide in a locker and they will eventually lose interest in chasing you. Early on, you can practically hide right in front of them and they’ll still lose track of you, instead searching elsewhere. In later prisons, you will have to be quite careful, as they will be quick to pull you out of the locker after seeing you enter it.
Even the game’s music features a small bit of nuance. As your security level increases, you can monitor it by looking at the star meter, but it’s not entirely necessary. At various milestones, the music will become slightly more intense, indicating a higher level of security. It’s a nice touch that adds to the dynamic feel that your prison sentence has.
The most interesting nuance by far, however, is that of restrictions that are placed on your escape attempts in multiplayer. This is the reason that Central Perks 2.0 took a total of eight hours for us to complete. Both Kat and I had ample opportunities to escape—on our own. Both of us had obtained the resources to disguise ourselves and simply walk out the front door, but it wouldn’t allow that. We needed a way out that would allow both of us to escape. To clarify, the game doesn’t simply require everyone to have the resources to escape in a particular way; some methods of escape simply aren’t possible with multiple players. This level of detail significantly adds to the multiplayer experience, even if it also adds to the amount of time that it takes to escape.
That being said, these nuances make one of The Escapists 2’s most glaring flaws that much more painful to report. You see, a lot of the game’s logic simply makes no sense, which makes escape attempts far more trial and error in nature than they should be. Lighters and wads of putty that you use to create molds of keys aren’t contraband, but somehow paper mache, which is primarily used to make fake vent covers, and sheets of metal are. There are metal detectors placed around later prisons, limiting your escape plans somewhat, but they don’t just detect metal; they could detect your contraband paper mache if you walk through one with it on your person. Medics and other employees will never call the guards on you; they simply don’t care what you’re up to, even if you’ve broken into their offices.
However, the biggest offense is a complete lack of logic in the way that guard towers work. If you’re outside and you so much as put a spoon to the ground while it’s in your hand, they will open fire on you for digging, no matter where you are at. If you enter guards’ quarters from outside, even if you have a complete guard uniform and a fake key, they will open fire on you. Somehow, if you break ground on the way out of a tunnel and enter the parking lot, where civilians’ cars are, they pay you no mind. This logic is frustrating at best and is an affront to the level of detail put into the game’s other systems.
The game’s multiplayer systems are also flawed in nature. We always test multiplayer modes from across the office, with our computers hard-wired to the same network and placed but a few feet away from each other. Even in such conditions, the amount of lag that we experienced bordered on the absurd, with various characters often simply teleporting around.
That’s not to mention the bizarre manner in which saving is currently handled for multiplayer. At launch, the characters of clients simply didn’t save; they lost their stat progress and all of their items. Now, it saves to the cell. You see, when you connect to the game, you are assigned a player number of sorts. That player number is tied to a cell. Every time players connect, they are assigned player numbers, and thus cells, in the order in which they join. When they leave, their progress is saved to the cell and, if someone else joins, they take over their progress. In order to keep your progress, you have to join the same game in the same order every time you play. I can’t even begin to understand why it was set up like that, but the very fact that the game does save progress now is a testament to the fact that Mouldy Toof is working on improving the multiplayer components of the game.
Despite these issues, I have had and am continuing to have a lot of fun with The Escapists 2. It’s a game of careful balance, of constantly being aware of what’s going on around you. The addition of multiplayer, particularly the cooperative mode rather than the competitive one, improves the core formula greatly and augments the way that you have to think about your escape plans. There are a few key issues involving the game’s logic, its netcode, and the way that saving is handled in multiplayer, but they don’t ultimately drag down the game’s wonderfully nuanced experience. If you haven’t yet, I would definitely recommend picking the game up.
Important note: Team17 sent us two copies of The Escapists 2 for the purpose of writing this article.