The life of a video games reviewer is an interesting one. Some games come along that you end up really loving, and writing a review of them is easy because you can just gush about how good the game is for however many words your editor demands of you. On the other hand, a bad game can be dismissed with the flick of a few paragraphs and a couple of jokes at its creators’ expense. Everything else falls somewhere in between— a scale of thought that runs from ‘utter drek’ to ‘greatest game of all time’.
Occasionally, however, a game comes along that doesn’t easily fit on this scale. Often, this is a game that has its heart in the right place, but which falls short for whatever reason. Perhaps it had a good story but was hindered by mechanical flaws or technical issues that made it hard to play. Perhaps it just didn’t quite go far enough in what it should have been trying to do (A good recent example of this is Dontnod’s Remember Me).
There’s also another kind of game that falls outside the scale. This is the game that you can see is a good game, but which you simply don’t enjoy. Team 17’s The Escapists is this kind of game for me. I fully appreciate how people can like it, and I fully appreciate that it’s well made. I just simply don’t find it very fun.
This, of course, leads to the frustrating situation where I have to review something that I can’t say I like. I could just dismiss it as a bad game, but I recognise that it isn’t. It has a unique premise, nicely drawn pixel art graphics, and a clever sense of humour. Its crafting system is robust and it is, overall, pretty good.
As I played it, however, I kept thinking to myself that I wasn’t enjoying what was on offer. I did the usual self-analysis when this happens: is something wrong with me? Have I recently suffered head trauma? Am I no longer capable of enjoying games? Have I still not forgiven Team 17 for Superfrog? And so on. Then I sat down and looked at the game to see if I could find what was missing. Did it actually have something wrong with it? Was it now actually corrupting all other game data on my PS4?
In the end, I had to accept that The Escapists simply isn’t a game I connected with. That’s not to say you won’t: I highly recommend heading out and forming your own view on the game. I found the need to fit in with the daily life of a prison tedious, and I found the combat (and its consequences) less than enthralling and the crafting system is simply not something I have the patience for. Perhaps, however, you will like many or all of these things and get a lot out of this game. I will not begrudge you this if you do.
I don’t want to give the impression that this is not a good game— it is— and I want to make it clear that I did try to like it and enjoy it. As a reviewer, sometimes things aren’t as clear-cut as ‘is this a good game’ or ‘what is wrong with this game?’. Sometimes a game just doesn’t connect, despite all its efforts to try. The Escapists was so earnestly trying to connect with me, but I couldn’t love it, I couldn’t want to go back to it over and over again.
Perhaps I will come back to it when I find that nothing else scratches my gaming itch. I’ll sit down and the game will just click with me. I hope so, because there’s nothing here to hate, and nothing that makes it difficult to enjoy. Perhaps the best way to say it is that while you may certainly enjoy The Escapists, it is simply not my thing.
Cute pixel art visuals
Unique premise presented well
Fitting into the routine of prison life gets dull