It’s as much fun as your imagination will allow and your patience will take.
In the pursuit of maximizing freedom in a sandbox environment, it’s common for an experience to be soured by over complication. Unfortunately, Team 17 and developer Mouldy Toof Studios were unable to avoid this problem in their latest release for the Switch, The Escapists 2. The concept of being placed inside a prison with the only goal of escape is an intriguing idea. However, in practice what should have been a fun battle of wits ended up feeling like a long arduous task with a middling payoff.
The Escapists 2 starts off with a fairly decent tutorial. Sitting on a beach soaking up the sun, an inmate describes to a fellow beachgoer the story of how he figured out how to escape from prison. The inmate narrates the actions he took while you play them out in real time, providing you with a general idea of the different kinds of tools you can utilize in order to earn your freedom. At the time, it seemed like it was providing a decent blueprint to guide you in future prison escapes, but I would soon learn that the tutorial barely scratched the surface of what is available.
The first prison that you’ll start in provides a good overview of the basic structure of the majority of the jailhouses. The inmate is assigned a cell that serves as your home base. Outside of that, a number of different areas are accessible by all prisoners. A workout room provides a space in order to boost your strength and fitness. Intellect can be increased by visiting rooms with books like libraries or offices. If you’re clever, you can find ways into restricted areas that are blocked off by security doors like the guard surveillance room or maintenance areas. The goal is simple: walk around the prison while taking note of the layout and looking for weaknesses and opportunities. Once you’ve made an assessment of your surroundings and come up with a plan, you have to execute it by collecting resources. That’s where the prison-escaping train fell off the rails for me.
An inventory menu houses a listing of all of the different tools and resources that can be crafted. The list is five pages long, broken down by the amount of intellect needed to craft each tool. It’s not immediately clear what the purpose or function of each item is and often, the only way to really get an understanding of what each can do is to make it and try it out. Trial and error isn’t an issue for me; I actually enjoy it. The problem is the amount of time it takes to find the resources you need in order to craft the tool you want.
For example, let’s say you wanted a pair of cutters. The craft menu shows that in order to make them you will need two files and one roll of tape. You have two options to find these items: you can search the desk of each inmate’s cell or you can track down the inmate who just happens to be selling those items. Neither option is ideal as desks have random items so you could waste considerable time trying to search for something specific. Buying items is not really any easier either, as money is earned by completing mundane, repetitive tasks around the prison. Most of them are fetch quests, one inmate will ask for a makeshift guitar while another will want a weapon a letter delivered. The map will point out exactly where you need to go to get the items, so you just walk from one point on the map to another until you’ve completed enough tasks to purchase the components you need.
The scope is impressive, though, as a large amount of variables make The Escapists 2 a dense, packed game. That all becomes too overwhelming, sadly. It just feels like a niche product that a small group of people that adore the concept are going to sink a ton of hours into while many others just bounce off of it. For an open sandbox game that relies on the user to enjoy the experience utilizing their imagination, the journey to the goal just isn’t enjoyable enough. My hope going in was that I would be spending time coming up with creative ideas to fool guards and bypass security. Instead, what I found was that I would often pray that my first plan would work so that I would have to go looking for more tape and files.