We live in an interesting time where incarceration has become a gaming motif. Just last year we got the prison simulator game Prison Architect, and the year before that we got The Escapists. Both games did very well for themselves and tackled the same subject from different vantage points. Of the two, we just got a proper sequel to the later in The Escapists 2 from Team 17. So we throw on an orange jumpsuit for who the hell knows what we did and attempt to escape in our review.
The Escapists 2 is a bit of a combination of strategy, RPG, and simulation as you play the role of a prisoner who is currently looking for a way to escape the big house. Much like its predecessor, you'll have to improve your character, take care of jobs and tasks, and steal a lot of items to make it happen. However, there is very little linear progression or storyline to follow—it is up to you to figure out the best way to escape and how soon you can do it. The game looks like a lot on the surface and can be intimidating to a newbie, which is why the tutorial is a haven for figuring out what you need to do early on.
There are ten different prison scenarios for you to play through in single player, all with their own set of rules for escape and difficulty. When you start a round you'll be given a tour of the prison, along with a schedule to follow and areas you can interact with. You'll then start your first day in the facility and will need to work out how you can escape. Your character can take different paths in life to make your escape. You can go to the library and read to become smarter, you can go to the gym and get stronger, you can do jobs for other prisoners and get goods you may need or favors later on, or you can work with the prison to earn the guard's trust. There's no one clear path to victory, meaning you can't just spend all your time in the gym and do a favor to get a spoon and dig your way out.
Everything you do in The Escapists 2 will be a combination of elements, which can be tricky as you keep up the schedule at the prison laid out in front of you. You can disguise yourself as a guard or a guest, or create a dummy version of yourself, or steal enough keys to make it to the front door with distractions for the snipers. The big hill you need to climb is figuring it out for yourself and then implementing the plan. The game will not hold your hand, but it will give you the information and tools you need if you look long enough. The skillset has improved greatly as you are now able to apply your intellect better and have a much higher chance of survival in a fight. There's a lot of micromanagement you'll need to deal with, but it isn't anything unreasonable.
Two of the elements I highly enjoyed was the create-a-character mode and the new multiplayer mode. First, creating a character has a lot more options this time around and will give you the option to look like yourself or the craziest person doing time. Meanwhile, the multiplayer mode opens up a whole new set of options as you and three friends can work together in the same prison to find a way out, or you can be jerks and race each other while also sabotaging the other players. Luckily you can add friends you know who own the game or get randomly matched up with other players online.
The Escapists 2 is a much more refined version of the original that's easier to get into and a lot more fun to experiment with. On the surface, it looks like a cartoonish drop-down RPG, but there's so much more to this that it may stun some people. The game still has its quirks that could frustrate people who don't know what to do or how to carry on, but those looking for a decent challenge with multiple elements and a bit of humor will probably welcome the time in the joint. I highly recommend the game to anyone looking for a strategy game, an RPG, or a simulator with a lot more freedom and challenge.