The Escapists 2 hands-on

Prisoners get your prison buddies, it's time for a break-out.

Back in February 2015, a small indie studio called Mouldy Toof released The Escapists, an 8-bit-inspired adventure all about hatching the perfect Shawshank Redemption-esque prison escape plan. The retro charm drew players in, but the incredibly deep strategy and addictive gameplay kept them going for hours on end. After a successful collaboration with The Walking Dead Mouldy Toof is back with The Escapists 2, returning to the prison break strategy format that put the studio on the map.

The first major addition to The Escapists 2 is a new multiplayer element, allowing players to drop in and drop out of a fellow prisoner’s game at will. Up to four players can team up in one game and try to hatch the perfect escape plan, either online or on the same console via split-screen multiplayer. Both private and public online lobbies will be available, giving one the choice of either gathering a group of friends to work on the escape together or trying to make a break for it with complete strangers. Switching between single-player and an online lobby is completely seamless, and no progress is lost by going online or signing off and playing alone. Breaking one character out of prison is challenging enough, but adding up to three more prisoners to the mix will prove quite a challenge to seasoned Escapists.  

With this gameplay upgrade comes a new graphics style, making the jump from 8-bit NES style graphics to the 16-bit Super Nintendo age. These updated visuals give the prisons even more life, showing guards and other prisoners performing their routine duties with even more attention to detail. These new graphics highlight the game’s new customization features, as every single prisoner and guard in the game can be changed to the player’s specifications. It’s not an in-depth customization suite, focusing on unique physical traits like hair and skin tone, but it’s still a cool feature that will give each player’s game a small slice of personality.

The prisons players will be escaping from are larger and more complex than ever, with players being immediately introduced to these new fortresses during a brand new introduction in each chapter. Rather than the game just starting immediately, the warden of the prison gives players a guided tour of their new digs, showing where every important room in the prison is located. This allows for a quick lay of the land that the previous Escapists never offered, immediately letting those in control start strategizing their epic escape. The map screens have been updated to accommodate these larger prisons, allowing for switching between floors and showing vents and underground tunnels as well.

While these new upgrades are welcomed, the core Escapists experience remains intact. Players will still be attending morning roll call, eating meals, exercising, and learning skills, though the methods of those last two items have changed. Gone are the slow alternating button presses of the previous game, replaced with a timing minigame that gives quicker bonuses for precisely timed button presses. Mouldy Toof says there are also more activities to find in prison this time around, although nothing new was shown during the demo.

Items still play a big role in The Escapists 2, with a successful prison break still needing players to collect items, craft items out of raw materials for trade, and learn the routines of the prison personnel in order to find the best route out. Some of those items and materials will be unique to certain prisons, meaning that players won’t be able to depend on some items to get them through multiple chapters of the game. It’s additions like this that show how The Escapists 2 is focusing on individual strategy rather than re-treading the same solutions over and over again.

Players have broken out of Mouldy Toof’s prisons before, but with The Escapists 2 the studio is doing its best to bring them back. Larger prisons to conquer, more options with which to conquer them, and the ability to tackle these challenges with up to three friends offer plenty of new elements to keep players going for a while. Escapees won’t have to wait long to go back to jail, as The Escapists 2 will be launching this year for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.