Diving into a game that's in Early Access is always something that's rather fun, as you never quite know what the experience is going to be like. Sometimes you are given a fully formed game that is going to be built upon, while others you will get something that is more akin to a demo. There is also the prospect of constant changes, as the developers look to feverishly make sure the game is keeping up with expectation. That's the case with The Escapists, where Mouldy Toof Studios had already pumped out an update within one week of the early access becoming available.
In some ways, it makes doing a preview quite difficult, as the experience can change from update to update. In this case, the update changed some parts of the UI, the controls and added a lot more content. It was largely positive, as more ways to escape from the prison are always welcome.
To start off, you are introduced to your prison setting by a warden and from here, you are introduced to your daily cycle. There is almost no tutorial to speak of at the moment, with self-learning high up on the agenda.
Each day is separated out by activity times, with numerous roll-calls and break periods, as well as food time and free periods. Using these periods is crucial to progression and you will quickly understand what seems to antagonist the guards and what doesn't.
You will often find that you need to use these times to perform some covert actions, such as looting from the desks of other prisoners or even laying down the ground work for your next escape attempt.
You see, in The Escapists your main objective is to escape from prison and almost everything you do works towards that objective. You will quickly find yourself trading with other prisoners and performing quests to gain money and favour. Once you start to obtain materials and more cash, you can then start to think about crafting more useful items. However, you need to be smart. Not all items are permissible in the prison and these need to be hidden from the prying eyes of guards. There's nothing worse than hiding a load of stuff in your cell desk, only for it to be cleaned out following an inspection. You will therefore need to find creative ways to hide your contraband, like putting it in the vent shafts above your cell.
Crafting itself is very detailed and even in this early access state, the amount of things you can craft is pretty ridiculous. You can use crafting to further your escape plans in numerous ways, one of which is making weapons, something which leads on nicely to one of the more recent changes. It's possible to fight against other inmates, as well as prison guards, but you will need to either make sure you are pretty buff from working out, or that you have a beastly weapon. If you do happen to have either of these things nailed down, you are now able to perform a hostile takeover of the prison by knocking out all of the prison guards - pretty sweet!
Escaping isn't easy and that's where the challenge lies. However, there are some concerns around longevity for the experience. Once you know how to escape, the game could start to lose some of its appeal. The crucial element will be how the developers encourage players to try different escape options and whether or not they are different enough to keep them interested beyond a few different playthroughs.
You can be sure that over time, Mouldy Toof Studios will be adding more and more content to The Escapists and if you are interested in a rather challenging experience, then it might be worth taking a peak. It has been in early access on PC since the 20th of August, but there are lots of updates planned before its 2015 release.