Escaping from jail is no mean feat and The Escapists brought into sharp focus the strictly regimented routine of prison life with the underhanded thrifty nature of acquiring and crafting tools to break out, all while under the gaze of heavy handed guards. You could buy, sell or gift between prisoners and guards to forge alliances; increase your crafting ability, health and speed with gym and mental activities, making this simple game much deeper than it first appears.
How then does a crossover with The Walking Dead retain the core elements and celebrate the narrative of the show? I would say, pretty well!
The first variance from the escapists is in the basic mode of play. In The Escapists, you are placed in increasingly secure prisons with the simple objective of escape. There are many potential methods, and countless tools to craft in order to aid you. The quicker you escape, the better.
Now, however, the rules have changed. Instead of increasingly difficult prisons, there are 6 narrative levels to work through, the first being a tutorial based in the hospital where Rick Grimes first awakes in the TV series. Whilst escape is still the main order of business, it is achieved through completion of narrative elements, often involving the dispatch of large numbers of undead adversaries. On the second level, I was almost surprised when I completed my objective so swiftly as I expected further tasks to be necessary. It is best to think of objectives as level goals and quests as character specific opportunities for a spot of cash. This cash can in turn be used to purchase ammo and supplies from shady night time traders.
An increasing challenge through the game is present, though could have been steeper. On each level there are a number of collectible comics to find, all of which are easily located in the tutorial but much more challenging on the larger maps that follow. It is here, in the secondary objective, that there seems to be depth for fuller exploration. The narrative is well constructed and therefore, underpins the rest of the game effectively.
Again, there are many familiar elements to those who have played The Escapists, but also, some expansions, twist and turns in store. Makeshift weapons lose their potency next to the mix of knifes, swords, bats and, more significantly guns. Much like The Escapists, equipping melee weapons results in increases damage without a graphical representation of the particular articles use. The introduction of guns definitely shakes the formula up though as you lock targets from a distance and fire off precious rounds. The closer the enemy, the more damage they take, but with proximity comes the risk, or certainty, of attack. While you lay waste to zombies, who can then be picked up, moved and looted, they will knock you unconscious increasing your overall risk of zombie invasion.
This risk factor replaces the guard suspicion from The Escapists, the feature that would lead to chases or lock down if you were not in the right place at the right time, or worse, in the wrong place at any time. Instead, a percentage appears in the top right, which increases with every KO you endure and every routine occurrence you miss, such as meal times, chores and twice daily headcounts. Push that percentage up and you will soon be overrun, risking everyone’s safety. In the interest of science, I did ignore my chores and found that walkers had completely overrun the area at around 80% forcing the other survivors into combat. If they die, you have a short window to revive them and if a required survivor (one necessary for the story) dies, it’s game over man! It’s much easier to just play it safe, using night to up your skills and free time in the day to venture.
Crafting has been expanded dramatically with over 200 new items and over 70 tools available to construct out of the mass of 2 or 3 item combinations. To get a head start you can search for a guide online, but crafting notes are also scattered around and will be added to your journal as you play. Finding need for the various items may prove more difficult and the ever limited inventory and storage space will always pose the challenge of whether a teddy bear is more useful than a spring. I hope the teddy bear is though, somehow.
Strength, speed and intellect make a return and the interface directions when undertaking these are clearer than before and, particularly in regard to the boxing, more challenging. Strength is always an obviously useful investment as it significantly increases the amount of damage you can take but so far the others have not been so clear in advantage. Previously intellect was necessary for crafting the best items so it is likely the same in this case, and speed increased movement speed, though didn’t seem as noticeable here. All in all, the mechanics play out well, departing logically from The Escapists where appropriate and retaining the prime features to ensure a challenging experience.
Trying to describe the look of the Escapists is one of the most fun tasks ever. 8 bit is definitely the buzz word and its look takes me back to the days of the Gameboy Colour. Despite this, there seems more detail, colour and animation than there ever was, meaning is more a homage, an expansion of space, scope and ability with the style. There are several games pitching for a similar visual experience currently; a top down, but not quite bird’s eye view of the environment, against which you move and interact, much like the Zelda and Pokémon games of yesteryear. Quest of Dungeons offered a similar look and, again, did so very successfully. We seem to be in a renaissance of 8 bit, with some developers really able to express themselves in the format, offering simple looks and complex systems. Team 17 have to be applauded for their success in achieving exactly that.
Two further graphical features I feel deserve extra merit. One is the 8 bit comic style cutscenes and text descriptors, the other is the character speech which has expanded massively on the previous offering. Whilst they might be fleeting at times when you do catch a character in a quiet moment talking to themselves about their situation, you appreciate the extra depth where otherwise there might have been nothing. It’s a welcome addition and jars well with Rick’s tough team talks.
Again, one of the captivating features from The Escapists was undoubtedly it’s soundtrack, blending the in-game routine with fitting soundscapes. It is particularly in regard to sound that The Escapists and now The Escapists: Walking Dead, rise above other 8 bit offerings. The mix of 8 bit and rich sounds provides a tense backing to the action, unique to the game but with influence running through from the TV series. The music always feels fresh as you play and compliments perfectly.
At a price point of £14.99 The Escapists Walking Dead is one of the pricier indie titles but as a mix of crafting, narrative, action and exploring there is a good mix that offers significant bang for buck. Whilst the game might appear on the shorter side, it has depth for those who go looking for it.
An excellent expansion to both The Escapists and The Walking Dead! Narrative driven with a mass of exploration in the dangerous walker ravaged wastes. One that fans of both franchises will enjoy!