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Review: Chroma Squad

May 04 // Josh Tolentino
Chroma Squad (PC) Developer: Behold StudiosPublisher: Behold StudiosReleased: April 30, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Not that they really needed to, of course. Such a "feature" would interfere with play, and there's plenty of service in the game as it is for fans. The play, in this case, is of the turn-based tactical variety, as if Behold took XCOM and ran it through the parodic, pixelated filters of Knights of Pen and Paper.  Like the former, players will manage a small squad of combatants, with unique classes and abilities, running them up against groups of goons and the occasional boss, one turn at a time. Like the latter, every mechanic serves as a distillation of tokusatsu's essence through heavy referencing and a clear, almost palpable appreciation of the source material. The premise alone is ripe enough with potential that it's baffling more games haven't taken advantage: Players manage a fledgling production studio, with each mission treated as an "episode" of an upstart spandex superhero show. Names, casting, and even catchphrases are up for customization, as well as the requisite selection of bright primary colors to outfit the roster with. If players want to commit sentai sacrilege and name a non-red-colored character the "Lead," no one can stop them but their inevitable guilt (guilt, I say!). Cast members can also be selected from a pool of actor candidates, each with their own special qualities.  [embed]291251:58411:0[/embed] When the cameras start rolling and the minions exit wardrobe, the fight is on. The goal of any given mission is to amass as much "audience" as possible, by performing flashy attacks, fancy stunts, and of course, winning the fight. Additionally, optional "Director's Instructions" add extra conditions, such as finishing off boss monsters with a screen-filling finishing move, or not killing off the boss before dispatching the cannon-fodder minions. Such extra goals help introduce variety to the combat, which is more simplistic than one might find in XCOM or other dedicated tactical titles. Enemies follow simple patterns and lack much in the way of extra abilities, so most of the tactics devolve to crowd and ability cooldown management rather than more elegant stratagems. Chroma Squad's main mechanical wrinkle comes in the form of "Teamwork," which allows squad members to leapfrog over each other to boost their movement range, or carry out simultaneous attacks with adjacent teammates. This, alongside somewhat simplistic giant-mecha boss battles, give the game enough of a unique flavor to override its otherwise thin tactical substance.  Following the mission, gained audience is converted into "fans," and also into increased studio funding, the better to buy one's way out of Papier-mâché costumes and into some real spandex duds. Behind the scenes, the studio itself can be outfitted with various upgrades that improve performance in each episode. Buying health care for the actors improves their health in combat, and improving the lighting on set reduces enemies' chance to dodge or counter blows. Materials dropped in combat can also be used to craft customized gear with semi-random statistics, a useful (and cheap) alternative to costly store-bought costumes and weapons. Fan mail can be answered for flavor and smaller benefits, and players can even choose marketing agencies to confer more benefits. Going with a niche-market enthusiast firm might increase the amount of fans gained after an episode, but will likely lack the mass-audience-gathering benefits of a more mainstream advertising push. Tradeoffs like that characterize much of Chroma Squad's meta-game. Speaking of meta-things, the game's narrative and missions regularly break the fourth wall, and form one of the game's potentially divisive aspects. While the self-aware script and obvious understanding of tokusatsu's many conventions and tropes lend it an endearing level of charm, some players might be turned off by references to dated Internet memes and other metahumor. Personally, I found the story hit quite a bit more than it missed, but I will admit that at times the dialog read more like a forum chat log than a script, and wasn't always helped by rough spots in the localization and editing. Then again, it's not like tokusatsu attracts its fans for complex plotting and characterization, so it may balance out in the end for players in the right mindset. What isn't as easy to let by are some unfortunate, if minor, technical and design blemishes on Chroma Squad's pristine pixelation. Mission scripts would occasionally freeze in "cutscene" mode, forcing me to start the mission over. A nasty little bug accidentally equipped low-level equipment on my giant robot, making some late-game boss battles much more tense than I'd have liked them to be. One bug even gave me control of an enemy unit rather than my own squad members for a few turns! Thankfully, dev posts on the forums appear to indicate that Behold is aware of most of the bugs I encountered, and a patch is in the works at the time of this writing. Beyond that, the lack of a mid-mission checkpoint or save, or a mission-select option is inconvenient for players wanting to explore the game's branching story paths (especially for those curious to see what Behold has to say about Kamen Rider). That said, the team has stated a New Game+ option may yet be in the cards for a future update, so repeated playthroughs may become more appealing in the future. Zordon may have wanted "teens with attitude," but Chroma Squad and its unabashed, utterly geeky love-in for all things tokusatsu shows something even harder to find: A game with heart and soul. That heart shines through the rough edges, and in some ways even turns them to its advantage. It might have taken quite a while in getting here, but fans of spandex-clad superheroic finally have the videogame to help them fill that little fantasy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Chroma Squad review photo
Lights, Camera, Henshin!
Ever since a badly-dubbed lady popped out of a dumpster on the moon, sending a weird computer-man to seek "teenagers with attitude," geeks of a certain age have been on the lookout for a game that can capture the essence of w...

Go to bread photo
Go to bread

May 4 brings space battles to I am Bread, but the spaceships am bread


Go to bread
May 04
// Steven Hansen
I am Bread hams a good egg, if you know what I mean. I expect maybe one person to follow my pinballing free association, but I was hanging out with mio cugino da Roma yesterday, and there's your one hint. Anyways, in the spi...
Project CARS photo
Project CARS

Here is your Project CARS full car listing


Jay Leno says hi
Apr 30
// Robert Summa
The upcoming racing sim Project CARS has been on the radar for many of those who live and breathe the genre. Slated for release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on May 8, here is the full car list that we know about so far (65 of which will come with the standard edition).
Tropico 5 photo
Tropico 5

Tropico 5 is like crack for your PS4


Multiplayer impressions coming soon
Apr 27
// Robert Summa
I'm a sucker for city-building and Civ-like games. Since the very early days of SimCity and SimTower, I've poured countless hours into building my virtual communities and empires. With Tropico 5 now ported over to the PlaySta...
Kerbal Space Program photo
Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal Space Program launching on April 27


I'm proud such a dry title is also a pun
Apr 21
// Joe Parlock
Squad has announced Kerbal Space Program is finally hitting 1.0 and leaving Early Access in a week's time. Mark the date on your calendars, space aficionados and sadistic Kerbal killers: April 27 will see the game finall...
I am Bread photo
I am Bread

I am Bread's latest trailer exceeds all expectations


It's just a slice
Apr 09
// Brett Makedonski
Bossa Studios is realistic with what people will expect from a simulator about being a slice of bread. The developer goes so far as to dedicate the first few seconds of this trailer to what that game might look like. Turns o...
No Pineapple Left Behind photo
No Pineapple Left Behind

Pineapples are our future in No Pineapple Left Behind


'Children are complicated'
Apr 09
// Darren Nakamura
School, right? We've all been there. One day you're studying for tests and gossiping with friends, the next day you and the entire student population of your school have been turned into pineapples. I hate it when that happe...

Review: Story of Seasons

Mar 31 // Brittany Vincent
Story of Seasons (Nintendo 3DS)Developer: MarvelousPublisher: XSEED GamesReleased: March 31, 2015MSRP: $39.99 The alternative moniker isn’t indicative of a “reboot” of the games or anything like that, however. It simply represents the fact that the Harvest Moon name has changed hands from previous publisher Natsume to XSEED Games. Developer Marvelous has crafted a game that’s much more deserving of the title than Natsume’s recent effort Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, and fans have something meaty and entertaining to look forward to within. But first, a bit of a history lesson. Harvest Moon's life began on the Super Nintendo, where it was known as Bokujō Monogatari, which roughly translates to "Farm Story." It was a novelty then as it is now: a game where you spend your days taking care of cows and harvesting crops as the seasons gently roll through spring, summer, fall, and winter. The goal, ultimately, is to build a house, woo a girl (it was always a girl in the early days), and settle down into a peaceful, pastoral existence.  [embed]289757:57980:0[/embed] Story of Seasons is an interesting amalgamation of what made these games exciting upon their descent into western culture interesting back when I was younger and continues to make them addictive in a modern setting. As it happens, there’s also an astronomical amount of things to do. This has to be the biggest, most sprawling farm sim game related to Harvest Moon I’ve seen so far, in terms of both management aspects and activities to perform. Harvest Moon: A New Beginning is similar in many ways, but it seems Story of Seasons has expanded on it significantly.  Luckily the beginning of the game isn’t so complicated, only offering you the chance to figure out who you want to use as your avatar throughout your adventure. It’s good to begin with something you can manage that’s as simple as deciding who you want to be. You can choose to play as a male or female farmer, both tasked with heading to the sleepy Oak Tree Town, in dire need of a skilled farmer to care for one of the town’s sprawling ranches. You’re neither skilled nor a farmer when you start out, but that’s what makes Story of Seasons so exciting: throwing caution to the wind and heading out to pursue a new profession in an unknown place to help a town in need. There are plenty of other farmers in town to help show you the ropes and ensure you know all there is to know before you plant your first seeds. Together, all four of you can hopefully restore Oak Tree Town’s Trade depot back to its former glory, with the right amount of crops and care. There’s a long road ahead of you, though, and a ridiculous amount of training required before you can even set foot in your own farm. It’s off to Eda, longtime resident of Oak Tree town, to act as your mentor as she prepares you to plant, water, and harvest crops, raise farm animals, how to use and upgrade tools used around the farm, and important information like your Health and Stamina. It’s a wealth of information that can feel like a slog to get through at first, and can feel overwhelming at first. This is absolutely not a fast-moving game. You’ll need some patience to take in all of the little things that you’ll find truly add up by the end of your farming internship, but sticking to it feels extremely rewarding. That’s where Story of Seasons tends to differ from Natsume’s “traditional” Harvest Moon games the most. Rather than arriving at a farm and getting started immediately, you’re given extensive training before allowed to set foot in a farm that’s in any way yours. Even your starter area is adjacent to Eda’s, as if the folks at Marvelous don’t quite trust you with your own area yet, supplanting new features and other additions as you go along. Unlike similar titles in the past, you’ve got more to worry about than if you watered your crops for the day or if your character is looking a bit haggard while tending to crops out in the rain. Your character’s Health and Stamina play central roles in keeping your farm efficient and productive, and there are plenty of ways to satisfy both requirements beyond simply going to bed. For instance, you can eat a small meal, head to a hot spring, or rest in order to ensure your health is restored, but losing it is another deal entirely. This time around even if you do something as small as walk outside during a torrential downpour, you’ll see your health drop, just as you would if you decided to stay up late in-game. In this, it lends a more realistic lilt to farming life. Along with the stamina points, represented by the number of hearts your farmer has on-screen, it communicates the message that farmers are still fragile, often weary human beings who need time and training to work themselves to the bone and keep themselves healthy. Luckily, the two difficulty modes (Normal and Seedling) offer options for players looking to keep things light. Seedling Mode finds stamina consumption levels lowered by 50%, which makes for a completely different experience when starting out, as do the positive multipliers on store items, prices, stock, and more. New players may consider Seedling Mode as a viable option when becoming acquainted with Story of Seasons, as there are alterations between that and Normal Mode that are indeed a boon for newbies looking to get started quickly and with fewer frustrations. Speaking of making things easier, farming feels much more convenient than before. You can work with a 3x3 area when working with watering, planting, and the like, and you can hold down your action button while walking to continue with what you’re doing. If you want to water crops you can keep walking around. If you’re planting seeds, your character will scatter them in the air. It all feels quite intuitive. Controls work with you rather than against you. The only way you might falter is if you find yourself struggling with the in-game tasks constantly thrown at you, and the multitude of extra assignments available to take on. Managing your farm becomes simpler the more you learn about doing it, but there are still several things to keep track of, including your farm house, animals, the crops you’re tending to, and special sheds that can be used to convert raw materials like dairy products and the like into useable food items like cheese or yogurt. You can make clothing, pottery, seasonings, engineer seeds and crops, and more at the Maker Sheds, all of which are extremely important when your farm is up and running proper. There’s a large variety of crops to keep up with as well, including special Super Mario Bros. crops like Super Mushrooms and Fire Flowers. These are interesting, cheeky additions that feel right at home on the 3DS, and when you harvest Super Stars to ensure the crops you have remain fresh. Aside from working on the farm, there are multiple interactions you’ll have with villagers and other NPCs. Some of these can lead to special relationships that can end in marriage and children, and others will give you gifts, interact with you, and befriend you as you make your way as a farmer in Oak Tree Town. These help keep things light, but also act as reprieves from the toil of day-to-day proceedings of planting seeds, harvesting crops, exporting goods for sale, and ensuring your farm remains profitable. Much like real life, offering a chance to interact with others, build relationships, and participate in events and activities beyond that of simple hard work provides several benefits. You’ll find as a player that you’ll appreciate these personable interactions as much as the satisfaction of cultivating a successful farm. Story of Seasons looks fantastic, feels great, and offers an overabundance of things to do and places to see. It’s a farmer’s paradise, though its almost excruciatingly slow tutorial and internship will take a large amount of patience to get through if you’re to see all the game has to offer, and there is a lot. Expect to clear your calendar for this excellent portable farming sim, as you’ll be spending several hours turning a profit to impress the townsfolk of Oak Tree Town, your future husband or wife, or even your friends playing alongside you.
Story of Seasons  photo
For every sim, there is a season
As a fan of both casual and intermediate simulation and farming games, the Harvest Moon series has always been a mainstay for me. I grew up on several different iterations of the Natsume-published entries beginning with Harve...

RollerCoaster Tycoon photo
RollerCoaster Tycoon

Devs explain why the RollerCoaster Tycoon World trailer looked like ass


Fool me once ...
Mar 20
// Robert Summa
In case you missed it, we recently got a glimpse of the new RollerCoaster Tycoon installment and oh boy did it look like complete dog shit. Granted, graphics aren't the biggest expectation when it comes to a game like this, ...
Goat Sim on Xbox photo
Goat Sim on Xbox

Lick the world: Goat Simulator releases for Xbox One and Xbox 360 in April


Better tell the teens about this
Mar 13
// Jordan Devore
Oh, right, Goat Simulator is coming to Xbox One and Xbox 360. That's happening in April. This short new trailer says as much, but there's another reason to watch: a real goat stands on an Xbox One. It tickles me knowing they...
The Swindle preview photo
The Swindle preview

The Swindle perfectly balances roguelike mechanics with approachable gameplay


The people's roguelike
Mar 12
// Rob Morrow
On my last day covering PAX East, I had the chance to sit down with the inimitable Dan Marshall from Size Five Games to have a look at his gorgeous, stealthy, steampunk-centric burglary simulator The Swindle. We’ve...
Dad by the Sword photo
Dad by the Sword

Dad by the Sword features limp, floppy swords


Jean shorts, evil hot dogs, and jealous beast-men make for a delightful game
Mar 11
// Rob Morrow
Dad by the Sword is iOS developer Rocketcat Games' first entry into the PC market and boy howdy, is it a doozy. Part sword-fighting simulator, part long-running dad joke, all demented loveliness. Rocketcat's design expe...
Deals photo
Deals

Next week's Cities: Skylines pre-order deals up to 27% off


The citybuilder you're looking for?
Mar 06
// Dealzon
Next week's release of Cities: Skylines has a pre-order discount right now making it cheaper than 2013's SimCity at MSRP. The new city-builder game from Colossal Order starts at $29.99 and can be pre-order for ...

Review: Screamride

Mar 02 // Chris Carter
Screamride (Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Frontier DevelopmentsPublisher: Microsoft StudiosReleased: March 3, 2015MSRP: $29.99 (Xbox 360), $39.99 (Xbox One) Believe it or not Screamride actually has some semblance of a story. In a dystopian future, a mega-corporation has recruited thrillseekers to test out various dangerous rides and experiences "for the future of mankind." It's all very eerie while at the same time adding in comical effects like people flying off the back of a boat to their death. It's never laugh-out-loud hilarious but it strikes a nice balance tonally to the point where I'm typically smiling. The thing I like most about Screamride is the commitment to the theme. Whether it's the chill electronic soundtrack or the bright and beautiful skylines, I'm constantly in a state of therapeutic bliss. The actual game on the other hand is very simplistic -- often to a fault. Everything is broken up into three core concepts, strung across six different zones. You'll get the "Ride," "Demolition," and "Engineer" subtypes, with roughly three to four stages for each activity. A certain score is required to progress through the campaign, which should take you roughly 10 hours or so to complete. [embed]287893:57556:0[/embed] "Ride" is probably the least exciting of the bunch, as it's basically Kinect Sports without the Kinect. Some of you out there might be jumping for joy at the lack of motion controls, but a fair bit of Kinect Sports Rivals was actually well done and innovative. With this minigame, you're just controlling a coaster, literally on rails, to its destination. Your job is to boost every so often and not fall off. "Demolition" is easily my favorite, and the one I play most often. In short, it's a 'roided up Angry Birds, subbing in orbs with people in them as the "bullets," so to speak. You'll control a catapult as you aim and fire each shell into various buildings and targets, with a slight aftertouch control to ease you into your destination. On the Xbox One, the physics are beautiful, and the destruction is gloriously detailed. You'll also get quite a bit of variety here as the game ramps up and gives you more powers, like the ejection pod or the jet-propulsion pod. To hinder or help your chaos there's a bunch of bounce pads, explosive barrels, wall-blocks, and basketball hoops to navigate through, adding a lot more depth over time. What feels like a basic Angry Birds clone eventually turns into something much more than meets the eye. "Engineer" is the last bit, which is basically more of a tutorial for the sandbox mode. You'll get to create the coasters that you got to play with in "Ride," adding in your own twists like bigger drops, tighter corners, and higher hills. The only real selling point here is challenges, which aren't present in the sandbox mode. Sandbox will be the bigger draw for creative types, as there are a lot more tools at your disposal. If you're so inclined you can also add in objectives for other players and share them online. There's already some crazy developer creations that were more fun to ride around in than the campaign, so as if the community stays active, there will be extra content to play around in down the line. That's a big "if" though. The main problem with Screamride is that the creation process doesn't feel as grand as it could. I was hoping that I'd be able to jump in and craft a giant universe of rides, but instead the game only gave me smaller islands to work with. Creating your own coaster with hundred-foot-high hills can be thrilling, but it can only go so far until you want to move onto something else. In a future sequel, I'd love to see ten or more concepts, not three, all working in tandem. Screamride is a limited romp, but its core selection of minigames are fun to play. It's enjoyable for what it is, whether you have a creative mind or just want to blow shit up. I can see myself going back from time to time to top my best score -- I just won't be creating things for months on end. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Screamride review photo
More like mild yelling
When I first saw the debut trailer for Screamride, I assumed it was a simulator. Growing up with Sim Theme Park and RollerCoaster Tycoon, I relished the idea of creating and managing my own commercial park and divining n...

Extrasolar photo
Extrasolar

Extrasolar's mobile interface got a slick update


Controlling an exoplanet rover on the go
Feb 26
// Darren Nakamura
Extrasolar has always been a tough sell for hardcore gamers, in my eyes. Though it was one of my top games of last year, most readers tune out when they see a description like "free-to-play science simulator," and going any f...
Shelter 2 Trailer photo
Shelter 2 Trailer

Shelter 2's latest trailer will thaw the coldest of hearts


Pre-orders now available, stackable disounts for Shelter owners
Feb 26
// Rob Morrow
I was reminded of Might and Delight's upcoming abstract adventure game Shelter 2 the other evening as I was winding my way up into the snowy, North Carolina highlands at dusk. As I made the last few icy turns appro...
Weapon shop game photo
Weapon shop game

Cuuute: A weapon shop game about potatoes


There's even a potato pup
Feb 25
// Jordan Devore
Games about managing weapon shops are still novel enough conceptually and satisfying enough mechanically that they don't need much window dressing to draw me in. Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! has a cutesy art style and offb...
PoPoLoCrois Farm Story photo
PoPoLoCrois Farm Story

Look at this bushel of happiness on the PoPoLoCrois Farm Story Japanese cover


Wouldja look at it?
Feb 24
// Brittany Vincent
Okay, I know no one cares that much about farm sims or things like that these days unless they're teeming with in-app purchases. Or PoPoLoCrois, for that matter. But for some reason, I really like both. I also really like the...

Saving the newly erected Ass from poop water in Cities: Skylines

Feb 23 // Steven Hansen
I started my four square kilometer city next to a river that flowed into the ocean. A smart city planner would’ve taken this advantageous location location location and immediately gotten sewage treatment plants funneling shit (literally!) downstream and out into the ocean where it's fine and not a problem at all. A smart city designer would've taken a screenshot of their work rather than snap a camera phone picture. However, the city starts on the Roads panel. Draw some roads from the highway that serve as the foundation for your city. It's easy, too, to paint on lines or curves. It's a bit too easy, in fact, to start painting beautiful, phallic roadways and eat into your starting budget. I made too large a dick to handle -- fiscally, anyways. I painted the automatic areas on either side of the street with zoning designation (residential, commercial, industrial) and suddenly I had houses erecting and entitled citizens demanding things like power and water. [embed]287913:57461:0[/embed] Skylines is actually quite good at leading you. Little icon demands pop up over homes showing what you're missing (power, water) and you go over to those tabs and start building. Erect power lines, funnel water to homes. As you hit population milestones, more options open up. Schools, fire departments, police departments, hospitals. I was a bit stuck, though, before all that as I had a city -- I named it Ass, by the way -- in turmoil. Shit-covered turmoil, limping along one stretch of pipe at a time, as much as the budget could handle, inching my way towards the coast so I could empty houses of their fecal waste. Buildings were abandoned, people tweeted obnoxiously with the built-in, faux-Twitter app that citizens occasionally use to talk about their Ass. Once I got the shit out of the homes, though, I really turned things around and Ass began growing exponentially, to the point where I was working on beautification projects (parks) as much as adding a second fire department to cover the eastern half of Ass. With built-in Steam Workshop support, too, your own potential Asses aren't limited to the 3D models provided. An hour in, crisis averted, I was still in a relatively podunk state. I hadn't come close to filling my starting four square kilometer tile, and you can patch together up to nine of them. And despite the scope, you can zero in on the most minute details of the simulation, as far as naming an individual city inhabitant and following them until they die. If you are looking big picture, though, there's lots to do beyond rote construction. You can map out and name districts, add city policies (want a smoking-free haven?), set taxes. Maybe build yourself a nice gentrified city, or develop a suburb escape as urban areas filled with crime. My simulated town of Ass never reached significant complexity, but Cities: Skylines' usability, given everything there is to do, impresses and should prove enough scaffold learning to facilitate highly functioning, complex cities from even the stupidest of us. Like the ones who name their city Ass and draw it like a dick.
Cities: Skylines preview photo
Scratching that Sim City itch
Paradox is sticking with, "let’s talk about our product on its own merits" tact with its upcoming city-builder from developer Colossal Order, but I am under no such nice-marketing guide (nor do I know tact, as this post will confirm). Cities: Skylines is looking to be what busted ol' SimCity should’ve been.

Artemis convention photo
Artemis convention

Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator is getting its own convention


Artemis Armada One
Feb 16
// Darren Nakamura
I have always been interested in playing Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, but have never had an opportunity. A team had it set up at Phoenix Comicon a couple years ago, but the room was booked for the whole weekend, so I w...
Story of Seasons  photo
Story of Seasons

XSEED harvests Story of Seasons on March 31


A Harvest Moon by any other name still smells like farm
Feb 12
// Kyle MacGregor
Story of Seasons takes root in North America on March 31, XSEED Games announced today. The Nintendo 3DS farming simulator is the latest entry in the Bokujo Monogatari series, which previously was localized under the...
RollerCoaster Tycoon photo
RollerCoaster Tycoon

Devious smile: 'Mishaps' can occur in RollerCoaster Tycoon World


Plus details on the freeform track editor
Feb 09
// Jordan Devore
Area 52 is promising footage of RollerCoaster Tycoon World soon, presumably on or around the Game Developers Conference early next month. I look forward to seeing that, skeptical as I still am about the game. Until then, here...

Review: The Escapists

Feb 09 // Chris Carter
The Escapists (PC, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Mouldy Toof StudiosPublisher: Team17 DigitalReleased: February 13, 2015MSRP: $14.99 If you've ever seen the intro to Kenan & Kel, that's basically how Escapists works. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to escape from prison by any means necessary. Whether you're Shawshanking it or divining an elaborate Michael Scofield-esque Prison Break scheme, the prison is your oyster, as the game is very open-ended in nature. It's a puzzle game, plain and simple, with old school JRPG-like menus to boot. Using said menus you can pick up new gadgets, combine and craft, and check your statline. You won't find a party with varying sets of skills though -- you'll have to escape all on your own, using the tools found within the prison and nothing more. The tutorial is basically an elaborate ruse, providing an interactive step-by-step guide on how to break out of the intro lockup. It feels really easy at first, until you enter the first real stage and realize that pure entropy is the name of the game. Guard and prisoner routines are entirely different, there are more people to worry about, the vents aren't automatically open like they were in the intro, and so on. There's so much going on at all times. The top portion of the screen basically functions as a ticker, showing you what activities you are expected to attend, including lunch, exercise time, and any and all job requirements. Nearly all of these have a small minigame of sorts, and boost your stats just like a classic NES Final Fantasy would. You can also converse with inhabitants and do favors like giving beatdowns for cash, or call upon favors yourself. Conversely, you can also be on the receiving end of a beatdown or get fired from your cush job. When that happens you may find yourself losing some advantage you had previously gained, like access to the laundry room where you work, which would have allowed you to snag a guard's uniform. You'll also be able to move about the prison freely if you have the tools to unscrew vents, and the power to move furniture around to get to hidden areas. The crafting system is fairly in-depth, but thankfully provides you with recipe lists once you've concocted the item of your choice. Hiding items is a key part of the game, but shakedowns can screw you if you aren't careful. To add to the madness, you can visit other cells to overhear conversations, and random events like riots will happen around you. The game can get pretty insane, and each playthrough is inherently different. Escapists is fun when you win, and fun when you fail. It's a joy to slowly figure out what works and what doesn't. While everything may not go according to plan and you might wake up in the infirmary bed with a terrible headache, the game is fairly forgiving with your follies. All your items are going to be confiscated after "death" and progress on certain activities is reset, but you can't really "die" in the traditional sense. I'm half and half on this design decision because while it does make the game easier, it makes failure less maddening -- just pick yourself back up and try again, sans menu clicks. The main problem I had with Escapists is that there is barely any emotional connection present throughout the experience. While it was often funny, presenting hilarious situations or dialogue reliant on specific inmates, you'd be hard pressed to feel anything else if you aren't a hardcore puzzle fan. A lot of gamers are going to get plenty of satisfaction over flushing items down the toilet or going through the paces of normal prison life while they search for vulnerabilities, but a lot of the mundane routines are just that -- mundane. Some of the later prisons (a Gulag, a medium security location, a jungle compound, a rough Federales prison, and a supermax) will test the resolve of some of the greatest strategy enthusiast due to their complexity. I'm sure that within due time there will be min-max oriented strategy guides out there detailed every exploit and the "fastest" or "best" way out of each scenario, but the entire point of the game is to come up with your own plan and see it through. It's kind of like Monaco in that sense, another polarizing game I adored. The Escapists is a game for a certain kind of player. If you love the idea of getting thrown on a desert island and figuring out how to survive for days on end, you'll probably enjoy it. If you find that prospect trivial, knowing that a lot of that time will be spent doing menial tasks, you may not enjoy it. As for me, I think I'm going to go back to Escapists for quite a while whenever I need to brush up on my puzzle skills simply because of how open-ended it is. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Escapists review photo
Aw here it goes!
Kenan: Kel, I'm going to need some chicken wire, some beeswax, a rooster, a few rolls of toilet paper, and a 5-Iron. We're busting out of prison today! Kel: Aw here it goes!

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