It’s been two years since I’ve been in the clink. That’s a long time for a reputation to grow and for legends to be created about the master criminal who did the crimes, but rarely did any time. They put me away and I always found my way out. Word on the street is that there’s not a single place that could contain me, Jimmy ‘The Snake’ Johnson, but the bigwigs over at Mouldy Toof took this as a challenge to overcome. Next thing I know, I’m back in jail, only to discover that Mouldy Toof, alongside Team17, have created a chain of tougher prisons to keep me locked up forever more.
This is The Escapists 2!
The Escapists 2 is the follow-up to the addictive prison breakout sandbox game from 2015, The Escapists, and the third title in the series – there was a spin-off involved the world of The Walking Dead, with survival and killing zombies being at the forefront of the concept. This sequel doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel, but merely mould it into a bigger, better wheel, whilst still retaining its identity.
Played from a sort of top-down perspective, the aim is to escape from a prison by any means necessary, which is something that’s explained in the tutorial level, Precinct 17. Whilst it could do with a tad more depth and goes through the basics a little too quickly for my liking, the essentials needed to get by are explained and you should be just about set to venture into – and hopefully out of – the slammer.
Before doing anything else though, you’ll want to customise one of the preset inmates who you can take charge of. There’s a whole load more customisations on offer in terms of hair styles, hair colour, skin tone and accessories. I managed to make my guy, Jimmy, stand out amongst the crowd with an emo vibe about him, donning a hair style that actually wouldn’t be out of place at a My Chemical Romance concert. Cell mates and guards can also be given makeovers prior to a stint behind bars, or you could just randomise them all and save time. Even though the options on offer are only minor aesthetic changes, it’s still good to see the variety has been increased since the original game and that additional options can be unlocked through gameplay.
Centre Perks is back as the easiest and first prison to attempt to escape from, but this time, in the 2.0 version, the Warden is better prepared. Simply follow the routine to keep the guards of your back; most important of all is to turn up to roll call twice a day, then there are time slots for eating, exercising, working, showering and also time to do whatever you wish to – within reason. Once the day is almost over, it’s back to the cell and you can either sleep your way through back to the start of the daily routine again or implement a plan to get out.
It’s not a necessity to escape at night time, but the alone time in the cell can come in handy to try a few things out. Amongst the solutions to leave the confines of the prisons are a few really clever ideas; some using disguises and the art of blending in, and others by crafting an incredibly useful item. The age-old methods of tunnelling your way out, or destroying a piece of perimeter fencing, are also viable options. I appreciate the different ways to escape, but crikey it’s never as straightforward as it sounds and if you get caught, the contraband is gone and the plan is in tatters. No one can say The Escapists 2 isn’t difficult, that’s for sure, although in fairness it is slightly easier in the early levels.
You see, the further you advance through the levels, the more restrictions come into place to potentially hinder your opportunities to smuggle, sneak and case out the joint. Patrolling guards are the least of your worries when cameras are watching your every move, item scanners are waiting for you to walk through with something dodgy in your pockets, and bigger prisons have more areas out of bounds without the correct key cards. It gets pretty crazy, to the point where you could spend hours figuring out a plan, let alone executing it. At times though it doesn’t half drag on, especially when the ideas start to run out and you just can’t see a viable way to break free. The additional security and well designed levels certainly helps to stave off any real boredom setting in, as every prison looks and feels different.
There are ten prisons in total, which is almost double the amount found in the original game, and three of these are unlocked from the start. Gaining access to the rest is determined by how many escapes you’ve managed, as different ways of breaking out will earn keys, with a set amount opening up more prisons. For example, to play the second lot of three you’ll need three keys and these can be achieved in any or all of the prisons you do have access to.
Three of the levels are transit prisons and these offer a far different challenge than the rest. No longer can you take your time to plot the escape, make allies and even buy your way out, for there is a time limit. This also means no bloody roll call, meal times or showering activities, thus unleashing those structural chains. The guards are unforgiving though; you can’t even step out of your chambers without feeling the wrong end of a baton on your noggin. Transit prisons really bring out the stealth side, leaving you to tiptoe around and find an odd way to get out, but it works and these are the most fun of them all. Who doesn’t want come up with a scheme that enables you to lure and then ride a horse into the sunset?
Well, to pull off most schemes, you’ll need to be pretty adept at crafting and fisticuffs. Crafting now offers a recipe book to see what items can be made, depending on your character’s intellect, and which ingredients are required. It’s far better than old times of trial and error, matching random items together like Dr Frankenstein and hoping for the best. Without the recipes, I’d not have a clue about how to make a bed dummy, a vent cover, or sturdy clippers to aid in an escape.
The combat has also garnered some improvements, with the ability to power up hits for longer and parry any incoming fists, crowbars or nunchucks. It can’t block a sniper bullet between the eyes though. Losing all your health isn’t the end of the world as the medics will treat you in no time at all, rifling through your pockets to rid you of any contraband.
One of the most welcome changes is to do with the favours that other inmates want your help with, in exchange for some cash. Previously, you’d be left to figure out where the items are, or where the bloke is that you need to beat up. But now, everything shows up on the map that you must do for the favour at hand, which makes it far easier to perform these tasks and earn money to spend at the vendors. It does possibly become too easy though in that sense.
They say most things are better with friends, which makes the inclusion of local and online multiplayer, for up to four players, a smart move. This option is available for every single prison, at any time you want; drop-in and drop-out style. It opens up new ways to escape and prevents certain solo ideas from being usable. I can’t argue against the notion that having human help, even just to figure out a solution to the predicaments at hand, is a welcome one. Just don’t expect it to be plain sailing with random players who tend to do nothing you ask of them, cause lockdowns regularly and beat you up for no other reason than the fact that they can.
Whilst on the subject of multiplayer, there’s a new Versus mode, where it’s a race to escape with virtually no restrictions. The quests/jobs are not present, there are no routines and no snipers waiting to put you down. Sadly my outings turned into lacklustre affairs as other human controlled inmates generally just wanted to fight for the duration.
Visually it’s vastly smoother on the graphical front, with each environment, person and weapon presented well, and all without compromising on the pixel style The Escapists is known for. The quality of the sound is neither here nor there, with nothing terrible or great worth noting.
The Escapists 2 is bigger, better, and still just as ruthless as ever when it comes to the difficulty of some of the prisons. You certainly need to have patience to prosper in the art of escaping, but the sheer variety in the prison layouts, guard patterns, and the transit prisons, help to prevent boredom from creeping in too often – but it still happens after following routines for a few days. The creativity in the crafting, the jobs and the extra multiplayer ways to break out is great, with the latter working brilliant when playing alongside people you know. The Versus mode is a waste of time – time that could be better spent in the main levels of the game.
If time management and using your head to think outside the box are things that get you excited, then you’ll no doubt love The Escapists 2. It’s a bloody impressive sequel.