‘The Escapists: The Walking Dead’ Review

Platforms PC/Xbox One
Developer/Publisher Team17 Digital
Genre Strategy/ Puzzle  Platform Played PC

The post-apocalyptic genre of media is often known for its ability to deal with stories of survival in dire situations, and the lack of a black and white morality meter. This is true of The Walking Dead comic series and television show. One thing I would not have picked is a cross-over with prison escape game The Escapists. While it’s great to see the characters and locations from The Walking Dead in a different way, this cross over doesn’t feel like a right fit for either franchise – the clunky title says it all.

The Escapists: The Walking Dead (TE:TWD) is best described as a sandbox puzzle game. Each of the five levels tasks you with completing certain objectives with increasing degrees of difficulty. The first level acts as a tutorial, introducing the player to the controls of the game. This is where TE:TWD takes its first stumble; too many actions are linked to the same input. This is particularly glaring when you are exploring with characters you have recruited. The same button asks a recruit to attack a walker, opens a desk to search for loot, and allows an item to interact with the environment. It’s frustrating when you want to do one thing, but the game thinks you want to do something else. Throughout my whole play time, I could never grasp the controls properly, always feeling like I was fighting against them.

Explaining the controls is just about all the tutorial does. There are a number of mechanics at play in TE:TWD, but the tutorial hardly touches them. The Escapists: The Walking is a polarising experience as a result, and I absolutely see both sides. On the one hand, TE:TWD does not hold your hand. The game gives you an objective, but how you complete it is largely up to you. To get into a locked room you can either find a key, go in through the ventilation system, smash through the wall, or dig a hole underground. Despite all of these options, the game does not explain how the mechanics work,

However, to perform most of these tasks, you’ll have to find items and use the crafting system to make stronger items. This is where TE:TWD lost me. Much like other sandbox crafting games, you are not told how to craft items until you work it out for yourself, or find a crafting blueprint while exploring. The problem with finding items for crafting is that loot appears to be randomly generated. You find it by looking in desks which are in rooms around the different maps. These desks also appear to refresh their contents every day. When you are trying to craft a certain tool, it’s frustrating to run back and forth from desk to desk trying to find the items you are looking for. You can’t hoard items for later use either because your character can only hold six objects at once. Furthermore, to actually break through a vent or dig a hole, it will take multiple copies of the same item, resulting in more back and forth trekking. It’s frustrating, because where I should have felt satisfied for independently working out what to do, I actually ended up angry that it took so long to achieve after having worked out the solution.

The other problem with TE: TWD is that the rest of the gameplay mechanics just aren’t fun. In the earlier levels, every time I started gaining momentum, I had to stop to do some mundane task every few hours of game time (I’d say about every 10 minutes real-time), such as cleaning clothes and cooking food. I understand that the developers want to emphasise the everyday survival element of the apocalypse, but there’s a reason that these moments aren’t as frequent on television: it’s not fun to do or watch. Additionally, combat is the game adds nothing to the experience. Combat involves going up to a zombie and pressing the attack button multiple times. But don’t try and take on zombies by yourself because fighting just one on one will take all of your health down. It’s mundane, not enjoyable.

If The Escapists: The Walking Dead has anything going for it, it’s seeing The Walking Dead represented in a 2D, 8-bit art style. Seeing the iconic characters and locations from the comic/television show is cool, and fans of the series should enjoy being placed in memorable situations. And yet, the addition of lines of dialogue from the comics that pop up every now and then don’t add anything to the game other than getting repetitive and obstructing the view

I wanted to like The Escapists: The Walking Dead. The open-world puzzle gameplay shows promise, with a deep crafting system and multiple ways to complete objectives. However, the gameplay elements just aren’t fun, or not explained well enough to encourage their use. Working out the solutions to completing objectives should have been rewarding, but it takes too long to complete them once the solution has been worked out. This is due to the random loot system and low inventory space, as well as the mundane tasks which halt progression. I just don’t think this cross-over was right for either franchise.

The Good

  • Open-world, sandbox puzzle gameplay
  • The Walking Dead in 8-bit

The Bad

  • Controls set out poorly
  • Mechanics not explained properly
  • Random loot system makes objectives longer to reach than they should
  • Most gameplay elements feel mundane and just aren’t fun

The Score: 5.9