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The Escapists 2 (Switch) artwork

The Escapists 2 (Switch) review

"Random and sometimes clunky design and hardware issues can't sink a concept that's exhilarating when it comes together."

I don't enjoy playing The Escapists 2, which is an unfortunate comment for a critic to have to make about a product that exists solely to be played, and yet I kind of like the game anyway. The contradiction makes drafting a review a bit difficult. The last thing I want to do is chase people away from an experience they might very well enjoy, just because it didn't scratch my particular itches, but I also don't want to go on record praising things I don't fully appreciate myself. It's a dilemma.

In The Escapists 2, you face a different sort of dilemma as you assume the role of your favorite of several characters. The issue: you are an inmate and you would prefer not to be one. It follows that your goal is to escape from the correctional institution where you are currently incarcerated. Your unusual endeavor requires semi-ingenious use of whatever resources you happen to have available. You accomplish your goals either alone, with local friends, or online. The experience is the sort that should theoretically delight Switch players, if they think multiplayer action is the bee's knees and can find a few individuals with similar convictions.

When I see a game about escaping prison, I naturally recall an old movie I saw on television during my youth and only vaguely remember now. It recounted a famous escape from the island prison of Alcatraz. Or I think about "The Shawshank Redemption," that classic Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman movie based on a Stephen King novel. Maybe you think of similar things? In any event, it's clear the developers responsible for The Escapists 2 did; they pay homage to all sorts of Hollywood classics that even loosely follow the theme.

The Escapists 2 (Switch) image

The game explores some fairly violent subject matter, such as guards severely beating prisoners who step out of line, or even gunning them down if they approach barrier fences while someone is paying attention (which is almost always), but it gets away with being vicious in part because the actual presentation is so adorable. Your characters look like they were ripped from an old JRPG and that makes it difficult to take their misfortune too seriously. They are whisked off to the infirmary to rest up, or they're put in solitary to peel potatoes for a while. I like the approach. It feels right to me, because real life is grim enough without more drudgery seeping into my escapism.

When you begin playing, you can select a tutorial stage that walks you through various gameplay elements. Then, if you're like me, you can promptly forget almost everything and learn it again properly as you play through stages with some actual teeth. The number of facilities available to counter your exiting agenda is initially rather limited, but subsequent successes unlock additional options. I enjoyed myself more when proceedings were fairly straight-forward and reminiscent of prisons you might encounter here in the real world, but some of the additional options are still interesting. You can try to escape from a train on its way to a more secure destination, for example, or even a futuristic facility or one isolated in the middle of the ocean. Each compound seems to be based on a different movie and includes new dynamics.

The Escapists 2 (Switch) image

The general approach to a stage is to craft a tool that will get you out of confinement. You do this by scrounging resources from furniture and lockers and such, while avoiding guards if that activity takes you outside approved areas or makes you look suspicious during patrols. For instance, you might need to put together a grappling hook, which requires you to assemble rope and the hook itself from a variety of more common implements. There's a lot of crafting, actually, and your ability to create something useful may be limited if you haven't learned the right recipes through experimentation. You may also not have the mandated stats, since more creative item fusion requires a higher IQ or whatever.

Probably my biggest gripe with the game is its random nature. Item placement differs from attempt to attempt, which adds replay value (in addition to a system that scores your performance) but also makes necessary a lot of pointless wandering. You might find almost everything in the first two drawers you raid, or you could invade basically every piece of furniture in the entire complex and still not be able to piece together anything useful. There are usually multiple ways out of an environment, which is admirable, but the more obvious methods also require that you play with friends. One of you might have to hold open a heavy door so the others can exit stage right. This setup leads to frustrating sessions. There may be numerous ways to succeed, but there's almost always one the game is pushing you toward and then it sometimes chooses to make that approach all but inaccessible. That irks me.

The Escapists 2 (Switch) image

I also didn't care for local multiplayer, on the single occasion when I convinced friends to participate with me. We played on a nice, large television and yet everything was zoomed in so close that it was difficult to see enough of the prison to make and execute proper strategies. I get that this approach is ideal and even necessary on a smaller screen such as you might have available with the Switch in handheld mode, but I would have liked to see the developers accommodate a larger viewing area. Maybe they did and I just missed it? I guess that's possible, since the interface in general tends to be quite clunky, but somehow I doubt it.

Another concern is that the game doesn't perform well--at least for me--if you leave it running and put the console in sleep mode. I haven't encountered that issue with any other of the numerous Switch games I've played. Basically, what would happen is that it would lock my system when I tried to return to my in-progress adventure. Once I figured out what was happening, I avoided the problem by saving and exiting the software each time I was done. If I didn't, I had quite a hassle getting my hardware up and running again. Load times also felt excessive, especially since the game doesn't seem like it should demand much of the hardware. Maybe a patch will fix those issues at some point, but they were am unpleasant surprise at launch.

So, with all of the complaining I've done, why do I even think the game has merit? Well, there really haven't been a lot of interactive experiences about escaping prison. It's a neat concept, and the developers find ways to keep you busy exploring it for hours of potential enjoyment. The characters are cute and it's fun to outwit guards. The feeling of satisfaction you experience when you finally tunnel out of a prison, or walk through the front gates is exactly the kind of thing some people play games to achieve. So there's definitely the occasional big payoff in The Escapists 2, and that emotional rush should be enough to keep people coming back for more... if they are the sort to enjoy the general gameplay flow and don't mind poor hardware optimization. For me, though, the experience looks better on paper than it plays in reality.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 08, 2018)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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