Being imprisoned sounds quite boring and hellish. Waiting around in a cell while your term keeps chipping away day by day. Dealing with the endless tools of ignorance which could become common in a prison. It all sounds terrible. So it came to a surprise to me in 2015 that a game like The Escapists from Mouldy Toof Studios would be an enlightening and fun experience. The game made a splash in the indie scene by creating a world which was much different from reality and made a puzzle out of escaping from prison and being free of such a terrible ordeal. Flash forward to 2018 and we’re being treated to a sequel which progresses the unique gameplay the first title had to greater lengths. The Escapists 2 starts off in familiar territory. We’re treated to a quick tutorial told through the eyes of a recently escaped convict whose life consists of hanging out on a beach soaking up the sun. This very short description of what a whole game might look like was a tutorial done correctly. The humor involved with this opening would soon be painted across the entirety of The Escapists 2, much like in the first game. By the time I was implanted in the first prison, I was ready to do the one job I was meant to: leave that dirty place.
What I like about the The Escapists series is its mixture of life simulation with strategy and puzzle solving. Though your main mission might be to escape from the rusty shackles of prison life, your side quests which vary from game to game are where the most fun is to be had. These quests are seemingly more prevalent in The Escapists 2 than in the first game, both in volume and in nuance. New jobs, rooms, and versions of prisoners make for more variables in the game of escape, and these variables are what make The Escapists 2 different from its predecessor. Other than this, a couple of added features help sprinkle in a little change from our first adventures in this odd world.
The art style has been noticeably improved. Character animations, which still reside in 2D, are full of movement and expression. Every activity from eating to exercising has seen an improved animation quality. Moreover, the general design of these prisons seems to be better than before. It’s obvious that the improvements are due to the success of the first game. This satisfies me in that instead of leaving the game’s art untouched, the team at Mouldy Toof Studios actually put full effort towards this game. In addition, the Switch port of The Escapists 2 runs effortlessly with little to no chugging or frame-rate dips. Playing on the go meant I was kind of worried about being able to make enough progress the power ran out since it can take a pretty long time to fully figure out a viable strategy; however, the time I took to get back into the swing of things wasn’t long enough to frustrate me or even hold me back from picking the handheld hybrid up and playing The Escapists 2. It’s nice to know that Mouldy Toof really didn’t lazily finish their sequel or their Switch port just for the money, instead they took their time to make it a real improvement over the first. But were there really enough improvements added in to make a sequel worth buying?
This is a point of conflict for me. Yes, the game offers plenty to do, and the content is undeniably filled with quality and quantity. Yes, I had so much fun toying around with new tools and access ways in the new prisons and rooms. Yes, there is now a fully featured online mode which runs pretty well on the Switch. Sadly, I don’t think these new additions were quite enough to warrant another game, yet I also think these additions are a little bit more than one would expect from a simple DLC or update. A sequel is easy to sell, DLC offering new animations that just look pretty and new multiplayer is way more difficult to market towards potential players. This is where my problem comes in, it’s hard to measure the value of something which only seeks to improve the likes of what came before it and do little more. For example, if Call Of Duty simply added a few maps and improved the animations in one of their titles and made that a sequel, they’d get extreme flack for it. So, with that in mind, I can’t give Mouldy Toof a full pass without mentioning these obvious risks upon buying their new game. Yes, it’s more of The Escapists, but it’s purely that. If you’re looking for a different game altogether or a different take on what Mouldy Toof can do in game development, you’re looking in the wrong place.
But, there’s an upside to that. The Escapists 2 is much more leveled out compared to what the first game was. Gameplay is tighter, Mouldy Toof have doubled down on the simulation aspects, and AI behaves better than before. With the new prisons and new ways to break out, you’re sure to be having fun way past the 20 hour mark I hit. This is all leaving out online and competitive play, as those modes are also a blast to experiment with. Each of these new modes adds the fun of other human prisoners, but like the actual systems, not much changes between playing solo or in multiplayer. You’re still doing the same things to break out as before but with the added distraction of enemies or allies. This means that even when I was done with the campaign, I could throw in some variables to mix up those original prisons I had just eagerly broken out of.
The Escapists 2 improves a lot on what The Escapists did, but it did little more than that. New online modes made little difference in terms of how systems worked, and I felt as though Mouldy Toof could’ve had a bigger impact on The Escapists 2 had they approached the development process from a totally different angle. Despite those little differences, I still had fun breaking out of fully guarded prisons and living the life of an inmate. This sequel’s improvements provided more than what would normally be offered in a simple DLC, and playing on the go without flaws meant a port of The Escapists 2 to the Switch was highly justified. Though I wanted more out of a sequel to one of my personal favorite indie games, I can settle with what Mouldy Toof gave me. If you liked the original, you probably will like the sequel too.
Developer: Mouldy Toof Studios, Team17
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC, PS4
Release Date: 11th January 2018 (Switch)