Prison Break: The Conspiracy may not be a perfect game but it’s actually better than what we’re used to seeing from the film/TV game genre. Combining solid mechanics and presentation with the overly dramatic and twist filled Prison Break flavor that fans of the show loved, the game is definitely worth checking out. There may be a few kinks here and there but Prison Break: The Conspiracy is just simple popcorn action video game fun.
The feel of the show is captured rather well. Nice voice acting from the Prison Break cast. The story, while not too deep, is still entertaining even if we do know where it’s headed. Tension filled stealth scenarios are a blast to play.
Would’ve been nicer if there was more to do in the prison in terms of secondary missions and activities. Some of the missions you’re given pale in comparison to the grander ones you partake in. The visuals are reasonable but could’ve used more detail in certain parts. Combat is a bit shallow. Not enough T-Bag.
When a game based on a TV show or film is released a year after the cancellation/release of said project then the thought amongst many is that it won’t be that good. Most gamers know that games based on licensed properties are usually a quick cash-in with tepid production values and equally shallow gameplay mechanics. So with that in mind, the game adaptation of the once popular and now canned TV show Prison Break has its work cut out for itself. Coming from a relatively small publisher and equally small developer, the game almost too perfectly fits the stereotype of “this game is going to be crap.” But surprisingly while it has flaws and is far from being AAA, Prison Break: The Conspiracy is actually a solid game. And no, that isn’t my inner Prison Break fanboy speaking.
Right from the start of the game it’s rather clear that this isn’t your typical licensed game. While some things could use polish (I’ll talk about that later) the general feeling I had was that the developers at Zootfly either thought things out or were huge fans of the show. But before I go into my full blown critique and analysis of what PB: The Conspiracy does and doesn’t do well let me set things up for the uninitiated out there.
Set during season 1 of the TV show, the game has players assuming the role of Tom Paxton, an agent for the Company. You see, the Company is one of those shadowy agencies whose reach spans the globe with mysterious people pulling the strings. Essentially it’s like the Patriots from Metal Gear Solid minus some of the wacky and melodramatic stuff. Paxton’s latest mission involves infiltrating Fox River Penitentiary to keep an eye on Michael Schofield and his brother Lincoln Burrows, the heroes from the TV show. From there Paxton soon finds himself caught up in the antics of Schofield’s prison escape along with some suspicious things happening within the Company.
If you’re a fan of the TV show, chances are you’ll love the overly dramatic and somewhat cheesy story of the game. The game doesn’t exactly have terrible dialogue per say, it’s just that when you hear certain lines from Correctional Officers and crime bosses you can’t help but snicker a little or at least revel in the games ridiculous nature. The important thing is that the core of the game and its story stays rather true to the show and characters. And by staying true I mean that as key events from the show are retold or shown from Paxton’s perspective.
The game also stays true to the show from a narrative standpoint as later on in the game some big surprises happen, especially in Chapter 7, that not only are surprising but they’re cool nods to the show. The pace of the game is pretty good as it not only condenses key Prison Break moments into the game, but it also has all the exciting high notes you would expect from the show. To put it best the game is essentially Season 1 of the show condensed into a 7-8 hour video game experience.
While being a character created just for the game, Paxton’s involvement in certain key Prison Break events and how he’s interweaved into the mythology of the show doesn’t feel too completely shoehorned. If anything how Paxton finds himself in certain PB events is somewhat natural given the circumstances of the game.
Paxton isn’t given a whole lot of depth as a character but he fits the standard Prison Break character mold of “here are my motivations/plans and that’s all you’re going to get from me.” Despite not having as much range as a character like Michael Schofield or the fan fave T-Bag, Paxton is a solid enough character who is portrayed with decent voice acting.
One of the key things that helps give the game that Prison Break feel is the inclusion of actors from the show reprising their roles in the game. There are a few notable exceptions as the roles of Dr. Sarah Tancredi and Warden Henry Pope have been recast and redesigned. But aside from those two characters all the key actors are back such as Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Peter Stormare and Robert Knepper as the amazing T-Bag. The actors from the show do a nice job of picking up from where they left off on the show as they all turn in nice performances even if it doesn't have the same spark as the show. But I do have to say that hearing Robert Knepper as T-Bag again was definitely one of my highlights while playing the game.
Aside from the faithful voice acting and story the game also boasts a solid visual representation of the Prison Break world. Don’t get me wrong, the game doesn’t have Uncharted 2 level visuals but all the characters are designed nicely and mirror their TV counterparts. Some of the facial animation leaves a bit to be desired as it’s slightly stiff but other than that the character models are nice, despite a lack of detail in certain parts.
I can’t forget to mention the last important character in the game and that’s Fox River Penitentiary. The prison isn’t a sprawling seamless sandbox landscape as it’s instead broken up into sections you can explore given the mission at hand. Visually the prison doesn’t have that dirty and dark feeling to it as everything oddly looks nice and clean for the most part. This is a bit odd given the circumstances that it is a prison and usually those places look like crap. But you can’t harp on the lack of visual grit the game offers since it isn’t trying to be a graphical powerhouse.
It would’ve been nice if the prison had more of a distinct character as far as things you could do. Aside from participating in underground fights, getting tattoos and hitting the gym to improve your fighting stats there’s not a lot to do. That along with the prison not nearly having a distinct flavor in terms of the gangs leaves a bit to be desired. But those are minor quibbles as after all the game is based on Prison Break and isn’t setting out to be a prison simulator.
The game’s solid interpretation of the TV show isn’t just limited to its story as the gameplay perfectly encapsulates the feel of the show. The majority of the missions have that somewhat dramatic and action packed nature to them. Things like traversing the prison when a riot is happening with prisoners beating one another up and snipers taking prisoners out from afar all while Paxton has to face this head on is rather epic at times. The scenarios in the game aren’t amazingly jaw dropping but they do a nice job of keeping you on the edge of your seat at times and having your interest piqued. Some of the missions also end with that classic Prison Break tease of “Oh damn, some big stuff is going to happen next” complete with the quick end montage of the various tunnels of the prison. It’s moments like that when it’s clear that the developers at Zootfly thought things out a bit and in a way it’s nice fan service.
Not every mission in the game is an exciting night time stealth excursion or a prison riot adventure and those don’t fare that well. It’s not that the smaller scale missions are designed poorly; it’s just that they lack a certain excitement since they’re nothing but fetch quests. Sneaking into location X to take item Y (which may be a shank) and then returning to your original location is ok but when you do that mission for the fifth time you may be wishing for more variety. It may also be disappointing for some that you revisit some of the same locations more than once. It’s understandable in a way since you’re in a prison, but it would’ve been nice if the prison was fleshed out a bit more and had more unique areas to explore. That’s not to say the game doesn’t change things up as there are levels where Paxton is walking around in sewers, elevator shafts, or old tunnels underneath the prison which have that eerie feel to them.
The actual antics and events you’ll find yourself doing mostly consist of sneaking around the prison and punching dudes in the face. Just imagine the core stealth gameplay of MGS1 with some platforming and fisticuffs thrown in and that’s what Prison Break offers. Now that may not be the most amazing description but the game actually has some respectable stealth mechanics that at times create scenarios filled with nail biting tension. Sneaking through the prison at night avoiding guards and cameras and then actually going outside the prison with the floodlights and guards on high alert is rather exciting. Paxton’s platforming sections are rather simple thanks to the control scheme and a camera that actually works well. Never once will you have to fiddle with the camera while platforming as the game does a nice job of giving a cinematic view that doesn’t obscure where you need to go.
Stealth is the dominant gameplay mechanic and for the most part it works fine. Paxton’s stealth moves are limited to simply sticking to cover and jumping from cover to cover. It’s a limited moves set especially for someone who’s an agent for a shadowy organization. But it’s suitable given the circumstances the game puts you in. Most of the time sneaking about is rather easy in terms of controls but there are a few times when I found myself having to be properly aligned with the cover in order for the contextual prompt to appear. This wasn’t a major issue while playing as it’s more of a small hiccup at times.
Generally the guards you need to sneak around are rather attentive as if you move too fast they’ll check things out. But at times they do succumb to some poor A.I. as you’ll literally be a mere few feet from them but they won’t notice you. The guard A.I is a bit hit and miss at times and it’s also a bit silly when you enter a previously empty area only for three guards to appear out of thin air. It’s not that big of an issue as it cases like that don’t happen often but it’s just a small case of lack of polish and the “gamey” side of the game showing itself.
Prison is usually a harsh place and as Paxton you’ll witness that first hand when you engage in prison combat. The game employs a rather simple combat scheme of one light attack, one heavy attack, and an evade/finishing move. Combat wise the game doesn’t present anything too special as there isn’t much in the way of combos except switching up between light and heavy punches. Paxton’s finishing moves bring a bit of flourish to combat as flipping a dude over or stomping his head is rather badass. It would’ve been nice if there was a bit more depth to the combat in the way of more moves and perhaps being able to wield weapons such as a shank, a weapon which is classic in terms of prison combat.
Given the circumstances of what it is, Prison Break: The Conspiracy is a solid and enjoyable game. It’s not a groundbreaking game as far as stealth and action is concerned but it’s not the typical movie/TV game trash we’re used to. The game is far from perfect as it doesn’t have AAA production values but things are polished enough in regards to the important stuff such as level design, controls and playability. The game may be enjoyed by fans of the show more as it’s rather faithful in terms of the presentation and story, something which surprised me a lot while playing. If you were one of the hardcore Prison Break fans who were sad to see the show leave last year then I suggest picking up PB: The Conspiracy as it pretty much has what one would want out of a Prison Break game.