When people call games an escape from reality, they don’t mean it quite as literally as The Escapists does. This is a prison break game, tasking you with busting out of a series of increasingly difficult prisons while maintaining the illusion of having resigned yourself to your fate. The tutorial makes this seem simple enough, but by the end of your first full day in the game’s easiest prison it becomes clear that the logistics of busting out are not so simple. Getting your hands on the tools required means an awful lot of fighting with other prisoners, sneaking away to search their cells for items, and trial-and-erroring your way through the crafting menu until you’ve figured out how to create something useful.


The Escapists is simultaneously quite complicated and overly simple. You’re asked to maintain a routine in prison so that you don’t stand out, but if you’re suddenly sporting a guard uniform or you never show up for breakfast no one seems to bat an eye. Even missing a roll call won’t necessarily mean anything bad happens, and while there are benefits to sticking to schedules training at the gym or working at your job can increase certain stats this means you’ll spend a lot of time bashing buttons listlessly and reading dull dialog. It’s extremely gamey, in that it’s hard to know which actions will have consequences even once you start to figure out the game’s internal logic. Sometimes you can punch a guard in the face with little consequence beyond a brief trip to the infirmary (and you’ll often have to to fulfil favours and get in good with other prisoners).
Sometimes you can punch a guard in the face with little consequence
Other times I was shot without really knowing why. One good trick I learned was to flee to a hiding spot after starting trouble because even if guards saw me entering it, they would forget I was there within seconds.Escaping prison thus becomes more about working through the game’s weird logic rather than actually devising a perfect plan, and while building up a solid understanding of the rules and limitations of The Escapists’ systems is satisfying in its own right, the game ultimately feels a little soulless.

And frankly, there’s something just a little bit off about the basic concept of this game and the way it makes light of horrible prison systems. This isn’t an issue everyone’s going to be bothered by, of course, and whether or not the game’s comical depictions of prison violence are troubling or not is an issue for debate. But for what it’s worth, I found myself wondering why I was escaping from prison whether my blank slate character deserved to be there or not, what they might have committed and had a hard time working around the game’s near total lack of story development. Perhaps a stronger sense of why you’re there would have led to greater investment; as it stands The Escapists presents a set of limited playgrounds that will only coax truly dedicated players into the required trial and error feedback loops.
6/10