In any other scenario, the idea of being imprisoned in high-security solitary is a terrifying concept. However, it just really works as a game. Many games such as Grand Theft Auto do a perfect job at simulating the feeling of being a criminal deviant, but it isn’t often that we see a context in which you face the repercussions of such criminal activity. Some have tried and achieved this to great success, such as Team17’s The Escapists and its sequel The Escapists 2. These games are so impactful to the genre that I question why developers have not tried to cash in on such a rich concept. Let’s discuss some reasons as to why we need more prison sims like The Escapists in order to feel like a devious mastermind.
THEY ARE INSANELY SATISFYING
Sure, for many people the idea of rinse and repeat grinding to make slow but steady progress can seem a bit daunting. For others, however, patience and grinding are a strong part of a game’s appeal.
For me at least, there is nothing more satisfying in a high-stakes game than finally seeing all of your hard-earned progress be put to use; think defeating Ganon at the end of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild using all of your unlocked upgrades. This feeling carries all the way through in The Escapists. Watching all of the gears fall into place whilst executing my devious escape plan is a feeling like no other. All of your time and effort doesn’t feel wasted, as everything serves a purpose, and every purpose is essential when carrying out an elaborate plan which can be foiled by a simple mistake.
I have fond memories of playing The Escapists for the first time and crafting a police uniform and key mould using a combination of components that I had worked hard for over the course of several in-game days. Seeing the short cinematic play as my character simply walked out of the prison without any suspicion made me realise that all of the time and effort was worth it.
Of course, it is likely that things won’t go the way you want them to a lot of the time. But like all games, that just makes when you finally do conquer the challenge that more pleasurable.
THEY GIVE A HUGE ADRENALINE RUSH
It ain’t no horror game, but The Escapists has definitely scared the living daylights out of me on more than one occasion. This one kind of leads into the last point, but how scared would you feel if hours upon hours of progress had been made redundant upon a guards discovery of contraband or a damaged piece of structure, bringing your entire operation to not only a halt but potentially all the way back to square one? Too many times have I thought that an area was safe and guard-free only to find myself in a lockdown and being chased by attack dogs only moments later.
But in retrospect, that’s actually one of the most fun and enjoyable elements of a good prison sim. I mean, how fun would a prison game without risks be? Obviously, it’s a whole different story if the incident wasn’t your fault, e.g. a corrupted save or glitch. However, during my time playing The Escapists, almost every single stress-induced moment was my own doing, and I loved every second of it.
There is a good reason why people play horror games: they like the thrill and adrenaline rush that it provides. A prison sim done right should have this covered. I do think that a new prison sim could benefit from a few differences to The Escapists however, as due to the arcade-ness of the game, certain features such as solitary confinement feel a little lackluster. A more intense take on this could really add to the consequence and be even more incentive not to get caught.
GREAT ESCAPE METHODS AND PLAYER CHOICE
If there is one thing that I have learned about prison breaks, whether it be through real-life stories or through the media, it’s that there are countless ways to escape prison. Some are unquestionably creative and out of the norm. It’s clear that The Escapists placed this idea at the heart of the gameplay, as the game allows for various strange and unique ways of playing the game and attempting to escape prison. This ranges from equipping a breathable garbage bag as a disguise and being taken out by trash collectors, to knocking out the majority of guards and then simply walking out of the front gate.
A side effect of this variation is that you very much feel in control of everything. You aren’t limited to how you choose to go about your escape, which I think is a key part in making the game feel authentic. I know that The Escapists is very much a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously; however, the fundamental ideas surrounding the player’s choice of progression is very much a serious one that should be a continued trend for future prison games. It would be such a shame for a game to just have one scripted way of escaping. After all, having multiple ways of playing the game really adds a lot of replayability.
CO-OP ALLOWS FOR GREAT TEAM STRATEGIES
There are just some concepts which co-op fits so unbelievably well for; to me, a co-op prison sim is a no-brainer. I mean think about it: how many TV show/film representations have involved a group of prisoners working together, each playing their own key role in order to pull off the perfect break-out?
Some games have tried their hand at a co-op prison escape like A Way Out, in which you and another player are required to escape prison using careful tactics and communication. This worked really well and just goes to show the potential for what a full co-op prison escape sim could be. However, this was merely an opening segment to a very much linear story-telling game and so didn’t have the opportunity to go all out with fun prison sim mechanics.
The Escapists 2 even introduced co-op as a new mechanic from its previous entry, much to fans’ enthusiasm, and it worked terrifically well. Friends and I have had many fun times attempting to break out of prison together.
When it comes to prison breaks, there is no doubt that having an extra set of hands and another brain is useful in carrying out an intricate plan. Perhaps one person could be in the process of tunneling through the ground whilst another keeps a lookout for patrolling guards, or maybe one person stages a fight in order to keep guards distracted whilst another player loots inmates’ cells. Even if it ends up going horribly wrong, it is still immensely fun to be working together with a friend.
Any prison sim with this feature is likely to be a great time.
Do you agree? Should we have more prison sims like The Escapists? Let me know in the comments!