In the wonderful world of videogaming, there’s only one thing worse than the movie license: the primetime television show tie-in. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most recent examples in the genre: 24: The Game, The Sopranos: The Road to Respect and Lost: Via Domus. All great shows, all terrible games. Mercifully Ubisoft had the good sense to cancel its proposed game based on the Heroes franchise (too bad the show’s creators never took the same initiative), otherwise we would most likely be throwing it on the same reject pile too.
Slovenian developer Zootfly – perhaps best known for being the studio behind the unlicensed Ghostbusters tech demo that generated some buzz on YouTube a few years back – at least had the common sense to base Prison Break: The Conspiracy around the events of the first (and easily the best) season of Fox’s convict drama. However rather than play as main character Michael ‘Blue Steel’ Scofield, you instead take control of Tom Paxton, an agent with covert organization ‘The Company’, who must go undercover as a prisoner within Fox River State Penitentiary in order to ensure that the falsely incarcerated Lincoln Burrows rides the lightning in the electric chair. Some eight hours of gruelling gameplay later, you’ll be wishing you could swap seats with him.
The first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club. Similarly, we like to pretend that Prison Break: The Conspiracy doesn’t exist either.
Prison Break: The Conspiracy is just an unenjoyable wretch of a game. It really is quite bad. For starters the game is essentially one continuous fetch quest. In order to make friends with your fellow Fox River in-mates and progress the story along, you have to answer to their every beck and call. Retrieve C-Note’s drug stash from the prison boiler room. Take a knife from the kitchen to give to Abruzzi. Collect PUGNAc medication from the infirmary for Scofield. Fetch the receipt for the game from your kitchen garbage bin. Grab you car keys and hope that the store you bought the game from allows refunds. And so on.
Pretty much the only thing the in-mates don’t ask you to pick up for them is dropped bars of soap in the showers, but that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t still provide you with a major pain in the ass on a regular basis. This is largely due to the completely inflexible stealth system that forms the framework of the experience. If you’re spotted sneaking around somewhere you’re not supposed to be it’s instant fail, return to checkpoint, try again. Doesn’t matter if it’s a guard who spots you, or a kitchen worker, or even a lowly janitor. Once seen by a non-inmate NPC you’re not even given the option of confronting, evading or incapacitating them. Wasn’t this style of stealth game sentenced to death a couple of console generations ago?
Which isn’t to say you don’t have any room to manipulate your captors provided you remain unseen. “You can distract some guards by tuning radios,” offers the loading screen hint text, helpfully. Yes, you can. On precisely two occasions in the entire game, and not because you’ve chosen to, not because you’ve outsmarted the baton-twirling bullies by cunningly taking advantage of your surroundings, but because that just happens to be the one and only method you can use to progress in those particular instances. Ditto the handful of times you’re forced to use fuse boxes in order to kill the power to the lights in certain areas.
Otherwise for the bulk of the game you’ll be hiding in cupboards and underneath delivery vans, or swatting at security cameras to magically disable them for temporary periods, as you plod your way through the same areas of the prison several times over, going to great lengths to avoid a game-ending encounter with a guard and thus completely eliminating the possibility that something exciting might ever occur.
Paxton regularly logs his thoughts on a voice recorder – a habit that none of the guards or in-mates seem to regard as suspicious.
Admittedly the mind-numbing stealth is broken up a bit by hand-to-hand scraps with your fellow cons – either incidentally as you skulk around the hallways, or voluntarily as part of the underground fights accessed in the prison yard (which earns you cash that you can spend on tattoos… and only tattoos). It’s just a shame that the game’s fighting system offers a level of control somewhat on par with attempting to play Street Fighter IV with your elbows. A pair of punches, a dodge and a block/counter are the only moves at your disposal, making for extremely shallow beat-’em-up thrills, so it’s utterly astonishing that the developer has bothered to include a two-player versus mode in the game’s main menu. What kind of remorseless bastard wants to inflict this on one of their friends?
Worse still, that’s the full extent of the combat. You can level up Paxton’s speed and strength by hitting the punching bag or pumping iron in the yard, but you never unlock any new moves or combos. Nor will you ever get your hands on a gun, or a shiv, or anything at all that could be remotely classified as a weapon. By the time you’ve finished the first two out of the game’s nine chapters, you’ve basically seen everything Prison Break: The Conspiracy has to offer gameplay-wise.
But persist with it and you’ll be treated to awkwardly timed quicktime events, generic characters playing critical roles (clearly the actors who played Haywire, Dr Tancredi and a few others didn’t want anything to do with this heap), and a distinct lack of Theodore ‘T-Bag’ Bagwell. The manipulative psychopath’s voice and likeness is in there for sure, but given that he’s arguably the most interesting character in the history of the series, it’s a shame he only makes a few sporadic appearances in the game.
The events of Prison Break: The Conspiracy run concurrently with those of the series’ first season. It’s outcome is the same – they escape – and it doesn’t reveal anything that will please fans or cast new light on the show’s characters or plot lines. If you’re an absolute Prison Break diehard, don’t buy this game – steal a copy instead, surrender yourself to the police and then get sent to an actual jail – because serving a real sentence couldn’t possibly be harder time than this.