Now there’s one thing developer Zootfly needs to be aware of: if you’re going to make a prison-themed game, and if that game turns out to be relentlessly tedious, you’re inviting any number of bad prison-related jokes from reviewers. You’ll be glad to know that we don’t resort to such cheap comedy tactics here at IncGamers and we have actively avoided self-indulgent quippery in favour of cold hard fact. Except, that is, to say that Prison Break is the most accurate prison simulator ever made, capturing perfectly the frustration, anger and brain-mashing monotony of life in jail. Dammit.
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Prison Break: The Conspiracy runs parallel to the events of the first season of the popular Fox TV show and you play as Tom Paxton, an undercover agent for the shady organisation known only as The Company. Paxton’s job is to make sure Lincoln Burrows is executed for the murder of the Vice President’s brother and to find out how Burrows’ brother, Michael Scofield, intends to save him. And it’s credit to Zootfly that it chose to link the game with the strongest season of the show, allowing you to see some of the first series’ more powerful moments from a different angle. Unfortunately, that’s really the only positive we can offer for Prison Break. In terms of presentation, performance, gameplay and overall design, it’s an appalling mess.
The gameplay in Prison Break is divided between fighting and stealth sections and, as you’ve probably guessed by now, neither has been crafted to a particularly high standard. Let’s start with the fighting. Tom Paxton, it seems, is no stranger to a tear up and, with the game being set in prison, there’s bound to be the odd disagreement. And so you’ll find yourself squaring off against a whole host of nameless thugs, as well as the occasional big name from the TV show. Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to enjoy these action sections (and I use the word ‘action’ very loosely) as the fighting mechanic is so basic that it seems positively prehistoric. You have a quick attack and a strong attack at your disposal as well as a block and dash manoeuvres for defence. Mystifyingly, developer Zootfly chose not to include any combos in the game whatsoever and made the heavy attack so slow that it is essentially pointless. And so you’re left with the light attack and countering moves which are achieved by timing your blocks. Once you’ve depleted your opponent’s energy to the requisite level, you’ll then be able to perform a (very limited) variety of finishing moves. It all feels woefully slow and unresponsive and the only satisfying aspect of winning a fight is knowing that you’re slightly closer to the end of the game. At least the stealth sections in the game offer something a little more exciting. I’m lying, of course, they are equally awful.
The stealth aspect of the game may as well have been crafted by Ricky Martin given that it involves spending a lot of time hiding in closets. When you’re not fighting in Prison Break, you’re fetching something for someone else which can only be found somewhere you’re not allowed to go. And so you find yourself constantly sneaking through what has to be the most insecure prison of all time. Of course, you’ll need to avoid being caught which means you can hide behind objects, in cupboards as well as climbing on the clearly marked sections of the environments. Again, it’s all very basic and isn’t helped by AI which seems to range from dribbling halfwit to verging on the telepathic. It’s all interspersed with incredibly tedious QTEs and minigames like lock picking and, my personal favourite, removing all of the screws from a vent cover. Gaming just doesn’t get much better.
Zootfly could have taken the edge off the sour taste of the gameplay by implementing some interesting level design but, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, that’s not the case. It’s ‘fetch something, fight someone, cutscene, fetch something else’ and it’s hardly a compelling formula. Not only is the game painfully linear, even when the developer tries to add some variety via an RPG-esque fighting skill tree, it fails abysmally when you find out you can max out your skill in one five minute training session in the yard. Everything in the game feels ill-considered and badly-implemented, from the shoddy gameplay to the sub par visuals, to the wide variety of glitches in the game, including one which sporadically took control of the game camera, repeatedly spinning it 360 degrees. Which came in handy during some of the more tense moments of the game. Which don’t strictly exist.
It’s hard not to feel that Zootfly missed a trick by making such a disappointingly linear game. A more free-form game in which you had to figure stuff out for yourself, make your own alliances and formulate your own plan would have been a lot more interesting. Instead what we have is a game centred entirely on the concept of monotony, with sub-par everything and only its connection with a popular TV series to rely on. I’ll leave you to make up your own jokes about sentencing the developer.