[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
When I first played The Escapists a few years ago, I do remember enjoying it, but not as much as I could have. The game wasn’t welcoming to new players at all, whilst the 8-Bit art style was a bit dour and indistinct. These limitations are immediately addressed by The Escapists 2, which has players controlling the wily Robinson as he recounts us through his favorite prison break, which just so happens to also act as a decent (if somewhat familiar) tutorial.
The graphics are now much improved, with the limited 8-bit style of the original replaced entirely by a new and much more detailed 16-bit style that features rich colours and improved animations. If you ever had an issue with connecting to characters in the original game because of how crummy they looked, then you shouldn’t have that problem any more. Interacting with the world feels much more tactile and rewarding as a result of the additional detail and movement animations that exist in this sequel, which is certainly a good thing.
Visuals are not the only thing that enhance connectivity with the world in The Escapists 2, because the controls are also improved, as is the overlay that players use to manage and combine items. In handheld mode, the game plays very well, with the slight exception that the Switch’s inbuilt vibration feature can be a little bit aggressive at time. Using a Pro Controller or docked Joy-Cons, it feels great, whilst on a single joy-con (in split screen versus mode) it’s a little harder, but still acceptable.
Much as in the original, prison life in The Escapists 2 is a cat and mouse game of attending structured activities such as role call, meal time or work time, whilst at the same time juggling your own extra curricular activities. Early prisons offer a relatively relaxed experience, with mandatory activities taking up a small part of the day. Later prisons will really challenge players to manage their time effectively in order to avoid being caught out by guards, advance their escape plan and still get enough sleep to function.
Where I had issues in the original game with aiming the action reticule for things like digging, the game seems much more forgiving about such things this time around. If I had any complaint about the controls, it’s probably as a result of interacting with objects that can either be opened/examined or picked up and moved, for example desks. This involves pressing and holding the button to do the lift up action or just pushing it to interact normally, but when you’re rushing around escaping from guards, it can be a chore!
This time, the game features ten prisons to explore, each of which feels pleasingly distinct. Again, this is partly a product of the updated visuals which really do bring the locations to life. The prison layouts are just as challenging as they were in the previous game, which is of course what the real draw of The Escapists 2 should be. Prisons are now much more diverse than mere reskins of snow, concrete or steel, for example. One level has players escaping from a prison ship, whilst another is even more challenging.
The AI is still brutal, although I don’t think that the game is as hard overall as the first one was. I always felt that the The Escapists was a little unfair in that regard, with prison officers too quick to spot anomalies in prisoner behavior. Actually, I think a lot of the time the issue was that I simply didn’t know how to influence their behavior properly, either because I hadn’t been shown what to do or because I couldn’t see anything in the very basic style of the original to interact with – for example when I needed to place a curtain over some prison bars to hide my activities.
I mentioned earlier that there is a multiplayer mode in The Escapists 2 on the Switch and indeed there is. It’s actually quite well featured too, supporting up to four players locally and drop in online play. Offline, players share a split screen in a stripped down versus mode which is effectively a race to exit the prison as quickly as possible. There are no guards or parades, so it’s just a case of finding the right items and making good your escape as quickly as possible. Online play is more complex, offering cooperative modes and more, but unfortunately I only had time to test it in a couple of prisons.
The Escapists 2 is most certainly a huge leap forwards in comparison to the first, which was in itself a great premise that simply suffered from a few execution issues. With the enhanced graphics, new prisons, multiplayer and softer controls, the sequel is well worth giving your time and attention to. In particular, it’s fantastic to see a deep and challenging game come to Switch and I know it will keep me entertained on a few more train journeys yet.