The Escapists: It Turns Out Prison Sucks

Here’s a quickie. The Escapists is a game I’ve tried out recently, a game about breaking out of various prisons. You keep to the prison routine to keep the guards from getting suspicious, and slowly work out what times you can sneak off to work on a daring escape plan without arousing suspicion. Easier prisons have lots of free time to work with, harder ones pretty much require you to make a bed dummy and do all the dangerous work at night. If you get caught, any contraband on your person and in your cell is taken and you’re time-skipped through three days in solitary, but otherwise nothing happens. Since you can hide contraband in cells other than your own, it’s pretty easy to avoid all the consequences except the loss of time. There’s no strict time limit to the escape, but the number of days you take to escape serves as a high score function, so getting caught does have that penalty.

This all sounds reasonably interesting. Here’s the problem: It turns out prison sucks. It’s boring. You spend 75% of gameplay following a routine so the guards don’t notice you, and the other 25% scrounging around for supplies you might never actually get. Getting through the vents is nifty, but for that you’ll need a screwdriver to unscrew vent covers and, if you plan on using the same vent cover multiple times (for example, if there’s a vent cover in your cell and you use that to access the ducts every night), you’ll want a fake vent cover. To craft one of those, you’ll need two rolls of toilet paper and two bottles of super glue with which to make two globs of paper mache, which you can then shape into a vent cover. You can get rolls of toilet paper in almost inexhaustible amounts by robbing your fellow prisoners’ cells while the guards aren’t looking, but the glue you’ll have to buy or steal from other inmates’ personal inventories. What they have for sale and what they have on their person if you mug them is totally randomized, so it’s entirely possible to spend multiple days waiting for materials to make themselves available. Turns out the most reliable escape plan is usually to train up your strength and speed in the gym, find a prisoner with a decent weapon, beat him up and take it, and then knock out all the guards and just walk out the front door after a successful riot. That’s not really the kind of escape I went to the game for.

Making molds of important keys and then creating plastic copies in order to get a guard uniform in order to get to the perimeter fence in order to hack through the fence with improvised wire cutters is possible, but it involves tons and tons of waiting and also you just have to hope that nail files and duct tape show up in enough abundance to make those improvised wire cutters. If you need another file or another roll of duct tape, there’s nothing you can do, nowhere you can break into, to make them appear. Turns out that prison sucks and a game mainly about being in prison also sucks. I’m sure you could make a fun game about being in and subsequently escaping from prison, but the Escapists isn’t really it.

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