The Escapists is an award-winning indie title from Mouldy Toof Studios and Team17 that has been available on consoles and PCs since 2015. This week marked the title’s first appearance on mobile systems, though, with simultaneous releases on iOS and Android. The goal of the game is straightforward – escape from a series of prisons with varying levels of security – but there are so many complex variables at play that The Escapists is good for many hours of exploration.
The Escapists is a pixelated, top-down strategy game that incorporates puzzles, crafting, and some RPG elements. I tend to find games with a lot of crafting and inventory management a little tedious, but those aspects of the game didn’t bother me in The Escapists, which is, by its nature, all about constraints. You’re stuck in prison, going about your daily routine, and taking advantage of things you find, favors for fellow inmates, and other opportunities to build up a set of items that will help you escape. The things you find feel like little treasures, and it’s fun to see how they can be combined into tools and weapons that you can use to get outside the prison walls.
The Escapists requires patience. There is a simple tutorial at the beginning where you climb through the vent system, meet with another prisoner who gives you items that you craft into a weapon to attack a guard, and make your escape under the prison wall. The tutorial does a good job teaching you the basic mechanics of the game, but it doesn’t provide many hints on how to successfully escape. When the game began, it felt like I was playing catch-up as things happened around me, and I struggled to understand what I was supposed to do.
After a while of being shuffled off to meals, my prison job, the yard for exercise, and other activities, I realized that the routines were part of the point of the game. To succeed, you have to fit into prison life and avoid raising suspicions but be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. There are weaknesses in each prison, but finding them requires attention to detail, patience, and a lot of trial and error. Once you figure that out, The Escapists is a lot of fun.
There are six prisons to explore in The Escapists and many different jobs to try. When combined with the wide variety of tools and weapons you can craft and interactions with other inmates, there is a lot to discover, which also makes each prison repayable, even after you figure out how to escape.
The Escapists does suffer a little from being designed as a PC and console game first. The game feels a little cramped on an iPhone, which prompted me to switch to my iPad almost immediately.
The game’s controls were also clearly designed for a controller with physical buttons. There are two options for controlling your inmate: a virtual joystick and button combination or a gesture-based touch system for guiding your character. Of the two, I prefer the ability to drag my finger to guide my inmate. It’s less precise, but keeping track of my finger on the virtual joystick distracted me from the onscreen action.
Those limitations aside, I’ve enjoyed The Escapists a lot. Each prison is a self-contained sandbox that gives you freedom to experiment. That trial and error approach is the key to escaping, much as I imagine it would be if you were actually trying to escape from prison, which makes The Escapists even more satisfying to play.
The Escapists is available in the App Store.