It's not very often that a TV series gets its own video game, and it's certainly not very often that a video game of that series is any good. After four very impressive series of Prison Break on TV, it's now time for the video game of that very programme where we can all once again meet our favourite characters including Michael Schofield, Lincoln Burrows, Sucre and T-Bag.
Prison Break: The Conspiracy is all based on Series 1, arguably the best season, where gamers play the protagonist Tom Paxton, an agent for ‘the company’. It all starts with Paxton arriving at the high security Prison - Fox River State Penitentiary - along with Michael Schofield and other prisoners. Straight from the word go it's obvious what the idea of the game is. Instead of actually playing Michael Schofield and trying to plan a Prison Break, you’ll play as Paxton and you mission is to find out why Schofield has purposely managed to get himself incarcerated into Fox River. Paxton has been sent to find this out by 'the company', and with time even he questions 'the company's' motives for sending him in.
If you've seen Prison Break Series 1 before and more importantly if you're a fan of this prison drama then the locations and scenarios in the game bring you a sense of excitement. Meeting cons like Theodore Bagwell, or T-Bag as we all know him is great and it really puts a smile on your face, as this is where the whole series all began. Unfortunately that's almost all the game is good for.
Playing out in a far too close annoying over-the-shoulder cannot-be-changed camera view you're required to expose Michael Schofield and find out his reasons for being incarcerated into the prison on purpose. As Paxton, and more importantly a new inmate, you have to make new friends as well as staying clear of trouble, of course that is if trouble doesn't find you first. You can walk around the prison yard as well as the cell area, however there is almost nothing to do other than the very linear and repetitive story mode.
Participating in the underground fighting arena in which you must choose an opponent to face in order to earn cash is your only other option. The harder the opponent the more money you can earn from a victory, and with that money you’ll be able to purchase tattoos for your body to make you look more like a criminal. Should you wish to bolster your physique for the fights you can head over to the weights area of the yard and make use of the punch bag and bench press. I found myself laughing at the punch bag and not because it’s funny, more because of how pathetic it is. A con will shout out a button one of three, which you must press when asked. It’s very annoying and sluggish and I’ve tried to spend as little time on the bag as possible. It would have been far better and definitely more fun to just let you loose on the punch bag so you can bash away. You just can’t stop getting the feeling the game has been rushed out by the developers which is a real shame.
The story mode, although very linear, does allow for nostalgia to kick in. Almost all tasks refer to specific scenes from the TV series including the infamous race riot and the visit to the psych ward. Purely based on stealth you’ll have to sneak in the shadows to complete tasks for the cons as in order for you to get something, the con will want something in return. An example of this is when you’re dealing with the mob boss John Abruzzi. As he is in charge of PI (Prison Industries), and you need to get into PI as part of the story, you will constantly have to complete jobs for him including retrieving a shank from the kitchen. Do these tasks and as promised you’ll get what you want i.e. access to PI, or specific drugs or prison blueprints you’re after. This is the way it works with all cons.
The actual stealth part of the game is ridiculously boring and mundane, this is mainly due to the robotic AI (prison guards and staff) that are obviously programmed to only move in certain ways. Some AI actually wait for you to reach a certain point before even moving, then when they do move they will just repeat the same thing over and over again until you advance to another part of the map. Another thing that annoys me is that unlike other great stealth games out there – Hitman and Splinter Cell – you’re unable to take out any of the guards and hide them away so that they aren’t found. Instead you’re left scrambling around objects waiting for the AI to look away, then move, then wait until again they aren’t looking, then move. It’s all very frustrating and when these tasks don’t change after the forth mission, it really does put a downer on the game. At times I found myself resisting progressing with the story mode just to avoid doing yet another stealth mission. Resisting aside I did manage to progress and get involved with some of the more action packed scenes which involved using quick time events and the combat system.
During the cinematic cut scenes and throughout the game there are a series of quick time events which if not ready will require you to watch the scene again. They are okay, and when used in the right situation it makes you feel part of the game, which is good. The fighting system however is to be desired to say the least. A simple three button configuration is used with two of the buttons being soft and hard punch, and the third being the block button. Because the buttons are simple this should work, however, when fighting I constantly threw missed punch even when close to an opponent. You can’t kick an opponent when they are standing up and overall the feel is just slow and sluggish. The developers could have easily added some combos to make it a little more fun and exciting rather than one punch here and there to knock someone down, but they haven’t, forever adding evidence to the impression of lack of creativity and development.
An unexpected game mode that has been thrown in is that of ‘versus mode’. This mode is basically the underground fighting arena, however, you’re able to play an offline friend. Why you would want to put your friend through that is beyond me. I must admit I was enjoying myself when playing this mode but it was more about how bad it was that made me smile rather than anything else.
I don’t like criticising games completely which is why I was glad to see the cut scenes and audio are quite enjoyable throughout. Constantly raising scenes I was familiar with from the first series but from a different perspective, that of Tom Paxton. The audio of the characters are great with the large majority of them actually being voiced by their true life counterparts. The most noticeable failure is the voice of Dr Sarah Tancredi and why she has blonde hair in the game is a mystery, but I got over this very quickly. Graphically the game is a bit like vanilla ice cream; it’s okay but doesn’t excite. There are noticeable invisible walls – if that’s even possible – and rough edges throughout some of the cut scenes but nothing to get in a panic about.
I had really high hopes for this game when I heard it was going to be released. In the end I'm left rather disappointed with the execution of a game which could have been something great. Poor gameplay combined with poor AI make this game frustrating and exhausting. If you've never seen the TV series there is no reason to purchase this game and if you have, there's still no reason to purchase it. I do suggest if you enjoyed Prison Break on TV that you rent this game purely for that Prison Break fever, and not because you're expecting it to be any good.