The Escapists: It’s a breakout strategy puzzler

February 26, 2015


Strategy games have taken many forms over the years. From running a successful business to conquering territories or taking the fight directly to your opponents in real-time battles, it has everything you would want and then some. Now, you might be asking, “what if I want a strategy game that lets me carefully plan my escape from a highly secure prison?” First, that’s an oddly specific question which somehow only relates to this particular review. Second, The Escapists is the game for you.

While it could be described as a puzzle game as much as a strategy game, The Escapists is all about learning the ins and outs of your temporary confinement and finding a way to successfully break free.

The setup is as straightforward as possible, but it’s the execution that matters most. The Escapists contains six different prisons to escape from, each with increasing difficulty. During each day, your goal is to learn the schedule of the prison, study the layout, find (or build) the necessary tools for your escape and, most importantly of all, successfully break out. Outside of a not-so-great tutorial and a few in-game hints, you’re left to figure out most of the game on your own. This leads to a very slow beginning as you adjust to prison life, but once you get a handle on the basic mechanics, it won’t take long before you have an escape plan.

Because of the game’s methodical pace, you’re given plenty of room for experimentation. As you go through your day-to-day routine, you’ll learn more about your fellow prisoners and the guards who keep a close eye on you. Completing jobs for the prisoners, which can be as simple as creating distractions or beating certain other prisoners up, will earn their loyalty. If you play your cards right, you can have a mini-squad of prisoner lackies who will be there to protect you as well as create any necessary distractions. Managing your relationships with prisoners is basic at first, but once you get into the later prisons, you’ll absolutely find it to be key to your success.


Inevitably, as you gain allies, you’ll also have to deal with a few prisoners who don’t particularly like you. There is always a way to improve your status with them, but you can never make every prisoner happy. What one prisoner wants will always clash with another, making it a nice challenge to balance who you want on your side and who you don’t.

At first, you don’t have any preferences and simply go with whoever needs your help, but as you get to know the prisoners and their routines, you’ll eventually want to side with the ones who can help you out of a jam or sell you useful items. It requires a little patience, but understanding the fundamentals of how to use the other prisoners to achieve your ultimate goal is a major aspect of The Escapists and one which leads to plenty of interesting moments.

Of course, you can’t escape without the right tools. This is where the crafting system comes in handy. In order to create the necessary items to escape, including digging tools, you’ll need to learn the recipes through pure experimentation. You can find or purchase recipes from other inmates or even pay in-game money for hints, but beyond that you’re left to figure out the recipes on your own. Playing by the game’s rules and learning how to make different tools can be a lengthy and tedious affair, but like most things in The Escapists, once you get over the initial hump, you’ll become a master escape artist. It’s a rewarding experience even if the process of discovery is more frustrating than fun.


Once you have tools and a few inmates on your side, you then have to figure out the best way to actually escape. Each prison in The Escapists has some pretty clear escape methods once you better understand the layout and schedule, but that doesn’t mean you can’t attempt to think outside of the box. Attempting a getaway, no matter how obvious it is, and actually succeeding makes the struggle to get to that point worthwhile.

Having said that, the trial-and-error experimentation of the actual escapes isn’t the game’s most enjoyable aspect. If you’re being careless, you could get in serious trouble with the guards and end up in solitary confinement. This could essentially nullify all of your progress if you’re not careful. Sometimes you can get in trouble without even doing anything due to erratic inmate behavior. Usually when a fight breaks out, the person who started it is the main culprit, but I occasionally found myself getting the brunt of the guard’s hostility even in situations in which I wasn’t involved. Nothing is worse than watching your plan fall apart due to unfair circumstances.

Initially I played the game on PC, which allowed for point-and-click menu controls and easy access to your items and journal, which contains all of your stats, recipes and inmate side quest information. Unfortunately, the PC version does not allow for controller support, and simply controlling your character with the keyboard became annoying very quickly. Even the simple act of entering doors took some getting used to. The Xbox One version, with surprisingly effective menus designed around the controller, allowed for more precise control over my character. I even grew accustomed to the interface, despite not being as intuitive as the PC’s menus.


It isn’t always a fair game and the trial-and-error nature of the core gameplay isn’t for everyone, but The Escapists offers a rewarding, somewhat-light strategy experience. If you take the time to learn the game’s systems, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. That doesn’t mean it’s a problem-free game once you have mastered the basics, but the gratification of victory often outweighs the slow pacing and occasional crushing defeat.

Pros: Rewarding gameplay loop, excellent and varied prison design, inmate behavior leads to more strategic planning
Cons: Bad tutorial and somewhat steep learning curve, PC controls are frustrating, trial and error gameplay can become tedious

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.