Dammit, I bought another game that was in early access and I feel screwed. I bought it after the "Full Release" though, so why do I feel screwed? Because this game does not feel like it should have been moved to "Full Release" yet.
Don't get me wrong. I love the idea of it and the degree of freedom it gives in terms of strategies you can come up with. I love the 8-bit semi-goofy guards, inmates, and general prison life. I love the interactions with your peers in crime and the routines of the day that you can end up using to your advantage. I love what they've done with it so far -- and while that is something okay to say about an early access game, it is not okay to say about a Full Release.
You see, none of those things feel fully fleshed out. Sure the NPCs have funny dialogue, but by 2-3 in-game days of play, you've heard it all. Oh, someone ate all the cream custards again? Or stole the warden's toupee? Shouldn't he have that glued on by now? And the amount of times your hear about an inmate's wife leaving them or dying is just not possible in a monogamistic society.
You can do favors for your fellow inmates but these are a selection of 3 different types of "Quests" with random targets: you're either going to find them an item, distract the guards at a specific time, or beat up someone they don't like. They get pretty repetitive shortly, and sometimes they play out ridiculously -- you beat someone up, notice they have a quest item on them for a quest that they gave you, take it from them, and then give it back to them to complete the quest. Some people think that's quirky and funny but to me it's an incomplete system. Why can I give someone their own pillow and complete a quest for them? And it would be cool to see other quest types, too, like an inmate asking you to plant evidence in another inmate's cell, or have them invite you to their escape attempts or vice-versa.
One of the biggest things that seems unfinished are the so-called "Instabusts". When you break a vent, dig a hole, steal a guard's key or do anything else "escapy", even when no guard is in sight or would otherwise know, you are almost intantly discovered unless you do something to cover it up. It makes sense to make a fake vent cover so a guard strolling by later won't notice anything suspicious, but they notice RIGHT AWAY, relying only on their psychic guard powers. They know it was you whether you're breaking a vent in the bathroom or have dug a hole in another inmate's cell, too. Sneakiness is out the window. Plus, the second that they detect you, you're thrown into solitary. They don't start sweeping the cells or climbing into the vents, you're just caught. With a note from the Warden saying "Nice Try", of course.
I can practically hear a meeting between the developers where one of them said, "And then we'll have the guards start a search or line up everybody for inspection," but they just never implemented it. It's a game mechanic where something more should happen but doesn't, and it feels incomplete.
When you put all these things together, you realize that the game's promise of "Think up your Own Escape Plan" doesn't really let you do all the strategies you may come up with. Want to conspire with other inmates to set up distractions or get supplies for you? Can't. Want to go to a seldom-patrolled part of the prison and climb into the vents? The guards will know anyway. Can you even make a key out of soap, one of the most used prison-break tropes? Nope.
Even as I write this, I worry I'm being too hard on this game. It's not like any of these things make it unplayable or broken. It just doesn't feel like a Full Release. In the time I played I kept thinking of mechanics and details that it would be cool for the dev team to add, but it's not in Early Access anymore. The game is even fun to play for a while, and this review is sooooo close to a Recommended. But, in the end, the game doesn't seem to have enough polish to make that fun varied or lasting. They should have finished it first.