Hey, remember Prison Break? It was that popular series that wrapped up around a year ago, as did its marketability as a franchise, as did Wentworth Miller’s acting career. The official Prison Break videogame was intended for release at the tail end of the series’ popularity in February 2009, but the game’s original publisher, Brash Entertainment, shut down, leaving developer ZootFly in the lurch. Zootfly, determined to the point of lunacy, self-funded the project and continued to work on the title. It was finally picked up by publisher Deep Silver much later on in development.
Based around the events in Series One, Prison Break: The Conspiracy puts you in the shoes of Tom Paxton, an agent for a shady organization called ‘The Company’ whose job is to see to it that series-staple Lincoln Burrows fries in the electric chair for a crime he didn’t commit. Meanwhile, Michael 'Blue Steel' Scofield wanders around looking Miller-esquely grim and cool as he goes about his grim/cool business, and you’re left twiddling your thumbs as some douchebag you’ve never heard of who spends most of his time crawling around in the vents. It’s not the easiest pitch to swallow.
Sadly, neither is the game proper. Ironically, Prison Break: The Conspiracy looks and sounds like a rush-job, the sort of quick-buck prime-time tie-in one would expect in a franchise exploding at the height of its popularity. One could forgive 24: The Game. Regardless of the unfortunate circumstances behind the delay, it’s harder to forgive this.
The first ten minutes consist of over-enthusiastic tutorials on the game-world. So over-enthusiastic, they feel like compensation:
WHEN A QUICK TIME EVENT STARTS, FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS ON THE SCREEN. YOU WILL NEED TO PRESS DIFFERENT BUTTONS TO SUCCESSFULLY FINISH IT! THERE ARE DIFFERENT SEQUENCES OF BUTTON PRESSES FOR EACH EVENT!
IN STEALTH MODE, DON’T MAKE ANY NOISE! WALK SLOWLY!
Tom’s job, apparently, is to collect notes on dodgy goings-on and do the bidding of his prison inmates to win their approval. This means a lot of hiding in lockers, hanging from walls, and climbing the ‘climbable surfaces’ (painted in fluro yellow for dummies). To kill time, he can work out via QTE in the prison yard, get tattooed, and fight. A lot.
These fights, which earn Tom in-game cred and cash, are shockingly implemented. There are only three moves: block, punch, and punch harder. It doesn’t help that Tom moves like a Ken Doll, his crudely animated muscled shoulders stiff and awkward, his lengthy turns painfully ungracious. Nonetheless, you’ll find yourself winning every round; the bad guys are uniformly neutered.
Stealth, Prison Break's major gameplay element, is equally backwards. Like in videogames of yore, guards will follow nonsensical pre-defined paths, their basic movement translated into little triangles via mini-map. When guard A gets bored of looking at a wall, he’ll turn around to look at another wall, only to turn around and look at the first wall again. Endlessly. If poor old guard A spots Tom, the game resets itself at the last checkpoint. There are no chases, no gunfights, no near-escapes. It’s as if all of the stealth-based adventure games in the last ten years never happened.
As the plodding narrative progresses, these repetitive fighting and stealth tasks grow quickly tedious.
‘Hey Tom! Get my stash! You’ll have to crawl through the vents!’
‘Hey Tom! Follow that guy! He’s got a letter! Or something! You’ll have to crawl through the vents!’
It’s all worsened by the occasional FMV glimpses into Michael Scofield’s storyline. Playing a virtually personality-free errand-boy is no fun, but the reminder of the exciting twists and turns in Prison Break Series One stings with what-could-have-been.
There are a few pay-offs for fans. Most of the actors are more-or-less faithfully recreated in their digital counterparts. The prison layout is closely modeled on the dimensions of the prison in the show. There are numerous geek references for those In The Know. In fact, this game could be a really, really cool extra on a Prison Break DVD. Only it’s not, and it’s retailing at full price.
And really, you’ve got to feel sorry for ZootFly. It must have been a tough ride. Let’s hope there are enough obsessive Wentworth Miller fans to shift this trivial oddity off the shelves, so their struggle, in some small way, is justified.