Have you ever wondered what would happen if you combined an old-school Zelda esque adventure game with The Sims, added a dash of Grand Theft Auto, a pinch of Minecraft, and set it all to MSNBC’s television series Lockup? Well look no further, because The Escapists might just be everything you’ve been looking for.

Developed by Mouldy Toof Studios and published by Team17 Digital, The Escapists is a clever and hilarious take on a prison life simulator. Available through Steams Early Access program, The Escapists sees players take on the persona of an incarcerated inmate that must not only adapt to the daily routines of prison life, but ultimately plan and execute their escape. This is accomplished by completing favors for other inmates, crafting tools and/or weapons, and sticking to your daily routines through activities like working, eating, exercising, or reading (for example).

Visually, the game looks and plays a lot like a classic top-down 2D action/adventure game, utilizing WASD keyboard controls as opposed to a traditional controller setup (which would be really nice to see in future updates). Very well done pixel art makes up the aesthetic of the game, and the music and sound effects add to the nostalgic feel, all while acting as helpful cues about what is happening in the game world (small details, but easily overlooked in an Early Access title).

Early Access you say? Well what’s in the game now, and what can we expect in the future?

Ah, what a great question! Well after spending about twelve hours with the game, and reading both the Steam community pages as well as the games website, it appears the core of the game is mostly complete. As of now, there are two prisons, six jobs, 100+ items to craft, multiple favor types, and unique prisoner and guard personalities to interact with. This leads to fantastic gameplay for a game in such an early development stage, and has established an excellent base to build upon as the game develops further.

The Escapists has already seen two decent sized updates in its first month (adding prison takeovers, new jobs, two new prisons, and a new escape route), so it appears that the developer is dedicated to regular updates. It does remain to be seen if two updates a month is a reasonable goal though, as changes tend to take longer as a title becomes more complex. Similar to the first two updates, future releases will focus on cleaning up and adding to the currently implemented core features, aiming to add several new prisons, escape routes, jobs, a massive amounts of new craftable items, and even a prison editor down the road.

So far, The Escapists has been a lot of fun, and in many ways has exceeded my expectations of an Early Access title. In a market where buying or gaining access to what is essentially just a polished prototype is not uncommon, The Escapists feel like a complete video game. Visually it looks great, and the controls/mechanics work well, and more importantly are simple to pick up and jump into. Crafting in the game is particularly fun, and unique prisoner and guard personalities are not only hilarious, but add a great level of depth to exploration and relationship building.

There are however a few quirks that are worth mentioning. Although the game feels pretty clean at this point, there will be bugs (as is the curse of Early Access). At this moment there is also no way to keep multiple saves. This may not bother most players on a daily basis, but it can be frustrating to have to start over every time we want to see a newly released prison, or gain access to new crafting materials as updates are released. Again, while this may not be a deal breaker right now, it could potentially become a bigger issue if the developers continue to update the game at a rapid pace.

On an even smaller note, the workout mechanics get obnoxious quickly. Having to spam the “Q” and “E” keys to go through the workout motions seemed cute initially, but very quickly got frustrating (and a little painful…). Unlocking crafting notes is also a little wonky at the moment, as players will often unlock upgraded versions of recipes we have yet to find. Not only is this frustrating because we can’t make the item yet, but it also spoils some of the recipes players may want to discover through searching or trial and error with crafting materials.

Overall The Escapists is a shining example of how to do an Early Access game right. It’s a quality, well-polished indie title that will continue to get better with time, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys simulation, strategy, and/or nostalgic gaming. With the added knowledge that the game will continue to see new features/updates, and a price point of $9.99, The Escapists is already well worth the investment.

Check out The Escapists on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/298630/