The Escapists: The Walking Dead is an aptly named amalgamation of the prison break indie game, The Escapists, coupled with the smash hit comic book and TV series, The Walking Dead. It takes all of the original game's mechanics and fits them into the world of Rick Grimes' undead uber-brand. As expected from a game set in that world, instead of escaping from prison, you're in charge of a group of people struggling to survive the onslaught of the zombie apocalypse.
It follows the story of the original comic books pretty faithfully, although it often feels like a cheap skin applied over the top of something else, which is, of course, essentially what it is. What this means, though, is that The Walking Dead license serves only as a framework for its setting rather than providing the game with a coherent and unified narrative and mechanical paradigm of any substance. That said, it's easy to see how the mechanics of the original game may work in this scenario, and these have been faithfully brought over to the follow-up game – both good and bad.
The Escapists: The Walking Dead is essentially a time-management game where you must methodically execute a series of everyday chores and objectives in order to both keep the other survivors happy and to keep the walkers out. Simple tasks such as taking attendance in the early hours of the morning or doing the laundry are mandatory exercises that determine the threat level of the undead making their way into your little sanctuary.
An ability to suspend your own sense of disbelief is an ongoing requirement to find enjoyment with this game. You must be able to ignore the audacity that mopping the floor on a daily basis somehow relates to the likelihood of being overrun by walkers. You must also be able to accept that when another survivor asks you to return their bar of soap that a walker has stolen, only that very bar of soap will be accepted. No other bar of soap, no matter how clean, will suffice – they only want the one that has been mauled at by a dirty walker.
Considering the burdensome nature of these demands, the game begins to feel like a chore in itself. These laborious quests are pretty much mandatory in order to progress within the game since completing them is how you earn in-game coins which are used to purchase components and items from vendors. These ingredients take up a significant role within the game since they are required to craft new items such as weapons which are needed both for yourself to survive and those under your command.
Sure enough, items can be found riddled throughout the world, but the randomized locations of these components mean that the game often feels like it's going out of its way to make things difficult for you. The aim is to gather the right ingredients to craft new items, but these combinations are often illogical, and unless you can find a written recipe outlining the algorithm to success, you have to rely on a trial-and-error strategy of lumping anything you can find into the crafting screen. This is time-consuming, too, since the limited nature of your inventory means that most items found need to be left where they are, leaving you having to remember the different locations of each item. It's like playing a game of Pairs, except on a much larger and more complex scale.
Not everything about The Escapists: The Walking Dead is negative. The game has a charming 8-bit aesthetic, and the soundtrack sets the tone well – you will often find your foot tapping along to the groovy beat. It's not all bad, but the negative aspects far outweigh the positives. This is the kind of game where a slow, methodical approach is best served, but it feels more like a time-waste than a compelling game that rewards you for your efforts.
The Escapists: The Walking Dead is a visually charming game with a standout soundtrack, but its gameplay is shallow and repetitive. It follows the narrative of the original comic books, but uses them only superficially without any real depth or engagement with the license. It has its moments of fun, but more often than not is a frustrating time-sink made up of trial-and-error mechanics with little sense of reward.