The guys at Team 17 don’t know me, but I know them. Or at least, I know of them. You see, when I cast my mind back to almost 20 years ago, I remember picking up an unassuming looking PlayStation game called Worms. It was pretty unusual to have internet access back then, and when I cautiously traded in two or three of my used games for Team 17’s first multiplatform release, I had no idea just how amazing a game it would prove to be.
Not only is Worms one of my favourite games of all time, but it’s also important to me for another reason. Team 17 is my local game studio — based just 20 miles away from where I live — and I’ve always enjoyed the familiar humour and creativity that feature so heavily in their games. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until earlier this year when The Escapists launched that a Team 17 game had me as excited as Worms did back in my youth.
For me, The Escapists felt like a welcome new direction for Team 17, and when I learned that they had proactively sought out the right to produce a The Walking Dead game based on The Escapists‘ core mechanics, I just had to find out more. What made me most curious was how such a project came about in a landscape where multimedia IP such as The Walking Dead tends to be strictly controlled. Team 17 Creative Director Kevin Carthow explained that the team had initially requested the meeting with The Walking Dead comic producer Skybound Entertainment: “Even though The Walking Dead and The Escapists are thematically very different, we found that with a bit of tweaking, a lot of the key ideas that reoccur in The Walking Dead were a good fit for the gameplay of The Escapists. We basically had more ideas than we could have done justice to in a single location, so we approached Skybound with a mind to developing the idea further, and things progressed from there.”
One aspect of their collaboration that’s so enticing to gamers is how Team 17 is bringing a plot structure to The Escapists model, whilst still retaining the original’s sandbox gameplay. Adam Riley (Producer) explained how they did it. “Players take control of Rick Grimes tasked with looking after the rest of the survivors throughout iconic locations from the comics. The main challenge was staying true to the narrative of the comic while still keeping the sandbox gameplay you expect from The Escapists.”
Carthow added that, “The challenge came in marrying that player freedom with a linear plot line. What we currently have is a good compromise, we tell the story from location to location by recreating scenes from the comic books, but within each location the player has total freedom to marshal their resources as they wish.”
Gameplay in The Escapists The Walking Dead appears likely to put the player in charge of a daily routine that will impact the survivors in their care. “Players can expect to see the majority of gameplay mechanics from The Escapists return with some used in new ways,” said Riley. “The Threat level is the main change from The Escapists. This reflects your performance as the leader of the group and is influenced by keeping on top of routines to keep the morale of your group of survivors high. If you fail to keep this under control you will see Walkers invading your safe area.”
In addition, a number of new combat features, including both real-time combat and firearms, will debut in the new game. Whilst Carthow was keen to say that Team 17 isn’t creating a shooter. “Guns and ammunition are rare and precious commodities,” he said, “and the smart player will use them strictly in a defensive capacity.”
Still, Carthow believes that the real-time combat adds “a whole new dimension” to The Escapists. “We have also introduced some distraction items to the game to allow more choice when dealing with walkers.” These additions sound like they have the potential to inject The Escapists The Walking Dead with some additional excitement. This is especially true when you think about the potential to distract and outsmart the aforementioned walkers, which is exactly the kind of smart thinking that interacts really nicely with the style of the original The Escapists game.
Unfortunately, the guys weren’t giving away much in the way of spoilers about the game’s locations, but Riley did jokingly reveal that “there is a farm with a barn full of walkers.” Carthow meanwhile, confirmed the obvious: “those readers who are familiar with both The Escapists and The Walking Dead source material can probably have a good guess as to at least one of the other locations used in the game.”
Based on my discussion with Team 17, it sounds like Skybound Studios is backing the project completely, to the point where the game will even feature comic panels drawn in the 8-bit style of The Escapists. The Escapists‘ high degree of difficulty also looks set to be retained, but Carthow did confirm that a few minor complaints would be ironed out for the new audience. “We found that some things in The Escapists were overly punishing, or there were times where you were taken out of the gaming experience because you violated a rule of the game that wasn’t made entirely clear,” he recounted. “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to smooth over these rough edges. The game is still challenging, but the game should hopefully feed back better to the player as to why a certain situation arose.” This should be a welcome tweak, as one of my few criticisms of the original game was that failure could often feel a little cheap or unexpected.
All said, The Escapists The Walking Dead is sounding very promising. The world of The Walking Dead fits surprisingly well with The Escapists gameplay because of the need to scavenge, craft and survive based on whatever given scenario the survivors are in, and Team 17 has already proven that it can really deliver when it’s passionate about a project.
The Escapists The Walking Dead is expected to launch in late summer at a yet-to-be-announced price.