The Escapist: Alcatraz

Truth. We have all wondered what it would be like to be in prison. Could we hang with the big bad criminals. Could we make it until that final day. With TV series like Orange is the New Black, it seems like pop-culture has dramatized the whole idea of being put behind bars. The Escapists has been out for some time now on the PC and Xbox One and finally has arrived to the PS4 with the DLC, Alcatraz. Now is the time to see if prison is worth all the Hollywood hype, or if it is a scenario better watched than played.

I first began my prison journey by starting with the first prison of the game, Center Perks. I knew from the get-go that this security level prison was the easiest, but it allowed me to get a handle of all the controls. The game has a SNES or Mega Drive look to it, which is perfect for the game. The 16-bit graphics allowed for an atmospheric setting of nostalgia. Although Center Perks was easy, jumping into the DLC, Alcatraz, proved to me that this game has depth. No longer was I dealing with 3 guards and low-level criminals. Now I was up against top-level security and hardened thugs.

As before, the game thrust you into prison with no background of your crime and little help in the form of a tutorial. I think this is an awesome way to start a prison game. You have no clue what to do other than the everyday routines of the prison. You will constantly be told to be somewhere or do something, but ultimately it is up to you as to whether or not you do what you are told. Be warned however, that there are consequences to every action that you make. Don’t show up for your work shift, then making money and acquiring a guard's outfit is that much more difficult. Decide to punch someone in the face for ticking you off and you might have found a first class ticket to solitary. You really have to manage what you do and when you do it in order to maximize all opportunities.

Getting to the goal of the game, you are tasked to escape your confinement by any means necessary. The prompt for Alcatraz informs you that for 250 bones a corrupt guard will ferry you to safety. So I began to do the things you want to do in these games; see what you're working with. I scanned my surroundings, which were far bigger than most prisons. I stole from my fellow prisoners, which there are a lot of. Finally I assessed what I could do. There is the ability to craft items that really is the only way to beat the game. Combining a magazine with duct tape for example, gives you the perfect poster to cover up your scandalous activities. However, get caught with an item that is not allowed and all your hard work goes out the door. The risk/reward system of managing your items makes you feel nervous the whole game, which is perfect for a jail break scenario.

Another cool thing about this game is the ability to break out of prison in various different ways. Any way you decide has pluses and minuses. You can choose to cut open the gate in the courtyard but more than likely you will be busted and put in the infirmary. Figuring out which way is the best for the particular situation is one of the most rewarding things about the game. There are so many opportunities to fail or succeed. Once you begin to understand the daily routines and figure out the hidden areas guards rarely check, you start to feel a sense of superiority. I began to walk around like the top dog everyone needs to watch out for and all want to befriend. I will say that there is never a dull moment but there is a turning point where you believe that you can escape and you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I have said a lot of good things about The Escapist: Alcatraz but it is not without fault. One big complaint I have about the game is the inability to read the text at an average distance. Knowing that the game began on PC, I can see why the text size is not quite right for the PS4. This really upsets me because it means that they simply did not think about the audience playing the game. I sit about 15 feet away from my TV and I constantly had to get up and see what the game was talking about. What really is a bummer is that the text is very witty and intriguing. It has that British satire which is lost in translation because you cannot read the text. I started to play the game using remote play and found that the game was perfect for my Vita. Here’s hoping they fix the text issue for the PS4 or port the game to the Vita.

I also will say that this is not a game for people looking for action. The gameplay is rewarding and you do feel accomplished as you escape, but for players that like instant gratification this just is not the game. Patience is your greatest asset. You never want to go too far with your escaping activities and you have to constantly mind your interactions with the guards and inmates. Micro-managing your items, your peers and your escaping goals while going about your daily jail routines is difficult, but not a challenge you can beat with your fist. This game is all about your mind and thinking about how your actions will result in uncertain consequences. I enjoyed the game but I can see how these interactions can be tedious to some players. If you have played this on PC, it will take sometime getting use to the controls. They are not as intuitive as the mouse which sucks because you are constantly clicking on everything you see and crafting items. This is another area the Vita's touch controls or mobile interface would work better.

Enough said about the bad, because overall The Escapist: Alcatraz is a very solid game. The developer understood the art direction they wanted, while some may want hi-res graphics, the 16-bit visuals were perfect for what this game wants to be. The gameplay is unique and very thought provoking. Second guessing in this game is actually a good thing. Taking a minute or two in the game to rethink your strategy, might mean another day or two in jail but at least your work is not meaningless. Some will hate waiting to the very end in order to feel the accomplishment of victory, but then again not every game is for every gamer. This might not be the best edition, considering the text issue, but it is a great game that lets you be the jail bird you always wanted to be. Toss your clothes into the bin and throw on that orange jumpsuit,  you have just been assigned to The Escapist: Alcatraz. Escape if you can!