By Darrel Wright
Last night, I was thrown in jail. I have no memory of being arrested or standing trial, but here I am, dressed in orange and being escorted to my cell.
The facilities are nice enough, with areas to read, play music, and exercise. The other inmates are okay fellows who are more than willing to offer some cash in exchange for running their errands. They also sell me a selection of useful items. The walls are claustrophobic, though. The daily routine is suffocating, and the guards are… less than friendly. The more time I spend in this place, the more I realize one glaring truth: I have to get out of here!
That’s the premise of The Escapists 2, the newly released cooperative / competitive online multiplayer game for the Nintendo Switch. The player(s) is placed into unfamiliar prisons of varying security levels and tasked with learning the daily routine; completing tasks for money; locating items; leveling up their character’s fitness and intelligence; finding security weakpoints and ultimately breaking out. Each of the 10 included prisons offer different layouts, security features, and multiple unique escape options, some of which can only be completed by a solo player, or a team of players.
On the surface, the Escapists 2 is a 2D top-down action game with pixel art graphics, simple controls, and a great sense of humor. The controls are intuitive if you’ve ever played a game in this style before. With simple inputs, you are able to move, attack, block, talk to people, or interact with objects. The hitboxes and timings felt a bit clunky to me, leading me to feel disconnected with the actions on-screen (an effect that was made worse when playing online), but overall the game controlled well enough, and I was generally able to accomplish what I wanted to do.
However, the game’s simple presentation and controls belie its incredible depth. I was constantly surprised at how all the mechanics worked together to create a living feel to each prison, and how many “I can’t believe they thought of that” interactions I had. The developers also included a number of options ripped right out of prison-break movies. Do you want to dig a hole in your wall and hide it with a poster like Andy Dufresne? You can do that. Do you want to climb up in the air vents and move to a different cell/area? Yep that’s here. Do you want to mail yourself out of the prison? Yeah that works. Dress up like a guard? Yes. Take a hostage? Yes. Take over the whole prison through violence? Yes. Make a fake key by knocking out a guard, taking a mold of his key, then filling the mold with molten plastic? You get my point.
Don’t take any of these points to mean that escaping will be easy, though. NPCs respond in a big way when they discover a damaged object, missing keys, or a knocked out guard. And this can really screw up your big escape plans in a hurry. Generally, though, with a bit of imagination, skill, and luck, there are a crazy number of methods for escaping each prison and just a lot of fun to be had here. The actual escape sequences are all very well done and made me laugh quite a few times.
For a game that really advertised its drop in/drop out online play, I find that it works surprisingly well as a solo experience. Actually, the game rewards solo play by making each prison have a solo-only escape option. Unlike most games with a multiplayer focus, I didn’t feel like I was missing much when playing alone. That said, the multiplayer is the focus for a reason, and is one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had in the past year. Whether cooperating with your friends or competing against them, there’s nothing like meticulously planning out your escape with a buddy or three, then watching it succeed or fail spectacularly.
Couch co-op (2-player only) works really well and leads to some great moments. Online multiplayer with friends also works great, but needs a method of communication (text or voice) to work well, as this is a coordination-heavy game. For that reason, I don’t think online play with randoms works for this style of game. With no method for communication, and each player potentially locking down the prison with a mistake, this mode can lead to some frustrating experiences.
Mechanically, the game runs well enough and looks sharp. However, it is marred by technical issues that can cause online lag, disconnects, and software crashes. Though this is mitigated by how simple it is to rejoin the game you were playing, even if you occasionally lose a few pieces of your inventory when doing so. This kind of issue only happened for me during long play sessions, but it did take away from the experience just a bit.
Overall, The Escapists 2 is a fantastic addition to the Nintendo Switch library. Whether playing alone or with friends, the game offers a lot of fun and laughs for the price point. The simple controls and interface make it easy to pick up and play, but the game’s depth makes it fascinating to come up with long, harebrained escape plans and just play around with the mechanics. While it does suffer from some technical hiccups that can be frustrating, the amount of fun and humor that the game offers make it well worth a recommendation as one of the strongest multiplayer options currently on the Switch.
Simple pick-up-and-play controls, incredibly deep gameplay with inter-connected systems, and a large amount of content for single and multiplayer fun makes this a title I’d recommend for all Switch players. Just be wary of playing with random teammates online.