Review: Prison Break (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Prison Break: The Conspiracy
Developer: Zootfly
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: Stealth/Action
Release Date: 04/01/2010

Although some publisher complications held Prison Break: The Conspiracy back a bit, the title was able to finally see the light of day last month thanks to Deep Silver. Prison Break’s appearance on the Xbox 360 attempts to tap into the “good ol’ times” at Fox River State Penitentiary, as the game’s source material has been under lock and key since the TV show’s final episode aired in 2009. Harking back to the original blockbuster season, developer Zootfly lends its talent to sparking the same cinematic magic with an original sidestory, however, it only gets the formula half correct, leaving gamers with a lopsided effort that will endear some gamers while completely turning away most.

Prison Break’s story follows the premise of the first season to a T: Lincoln Burrows is sentenced to death for the murder of the vice president’s brother. The catch is, he was framed by a top-secret organization known as The Company. Once Burrow’s brother, Michael Scofield, becomes convinced of the wrong-doing, he decides to use his brilliant mind and career of structural engineering to bust his bro out before he hits the chair. In Prison Break: The Conspiracy, the story branches out a bit further as The Company deems Scofield’s act of armed robbery and landing in the same prison as his brother is a little too coincidental for its tastes. Sensing something is up, The Company sends in agent Tom Paxton to go undercover and find out what Scofield is planning and ensure by any means necessary that Burrows is executed.

As the player steps into the prison garb of Paxton, the usual prison cliche hijinx ensue and, aside from the initial introduction, the linear nature of the game and the developer’s choice to send Paxton on about six hours of fetch quests does little to allow the story to fully formulate. Fans of the show will no doubt recognize and enjoy the chance to talk tough to a handful of the show’s major characters, but most of this conversation just amounts to the characters telling Paxton what they need from him in exchange for whatever it is he needs to progress. Most of the fleshed out conversation are, oddly, ones Paxton has with himself, and players that soak in the ambiance of the prison will catch a handful of humorous conversations and situations that occur when guards and staff are unaware they are being watched. Unfortunately, these instances arguably make the random no-name characters more interesting than the recognizable likenesses fans of the series should already have a connection with.

Throughout the story, a number of circumstances become hard to believe, such as the fact no one has an issue with Paxton having a voice recorder on him at all times, which he blatantly uses out in the open. The same goes for any time Paxton uses prison yard phones to publicly dial up The Company and chat with his boss, Jack Mannix. Regardless of the bits of absurdity, Prison Break: The Conspiracy doesn’t do much to give the player a lot meaty story in between the beginning and end, and even so, if you’ve seen the first season of the show, you know how this story ultimately ends. Even though you get to experience it through the perspective of Paxton, knowing the ending will nerf the plotline twist (even though it’s hardly shocking if you don’t know the ending) and absolutely nothing will surprise you the whole way through.

The game banks pretty heavily on the single-player story, but with no secrets, collectibles or rewards to find, the replayability of the title really takes a blow. I would imagine few people would play this more than once other than to pick up a few more achievements or attempt the game on a harder difficulty if they truly enjoyed it the first time around. The game also offers up a versus mode that allows one or two players to pick fights in the arena as a number of the game’s cast, but this too is ultimately shallow in the long run.

If Prison Break: The Conspiracy is consistent with one technical aspect, it would definitely be in its respectable visuals. The character models are well done, for the most part, especially nailing down the physical features of the key series characters. Although the player sees the environments recycled, each has fairly unique features that sets apart areas such as the boiler room from the cell block and the cafeteria area from the asylum. While there tends to be a bit of a blurry focus on the visuals, the title does attempt some highlight use of lighting and particle effects. These effects could definitely be more crisp, but seeing a hallway with dust flittering around in the sparse beams of light inside the prison liven up the environments a bit more.

The sound is a bit more mixed, with the notable strike for fans of the series being the absence of a few of the original voices of the key characters. While this isn’t a huge blow to someone that hasn’t seen the series before (a category which I honestly fall in), fans will likely be bothered by the inconsistency. Overall, though, the voice work is serviceable and the title was able to feature seven original cast members, so there should be at least an air of familiarity for fans. Most of the sound, though, relies on ambiance to carry to load. There are a few jingles presented in fan service moments, but otherwise, music is fairly scarce, letting the sound effects give the player clues as to what is going on around them as they sneak around. Considering most of the game is sneaking around, however, even though the sound is well done, the effects no doubt miss a lot of the pop other games have with explosions, gunfire, etc. Prison Break gets this a little bit with roars of rioting cons and crushing fisticuff blows, and while the quiet nature of the title is understandable in context, the player is left with few memorable audible instances.

Anyone interested in the title should know up front that Prison Break: The Conspiracy is at least ninety percent stealth – trigger happy FPS fans and Metal Gear Solid commandos will need to check their hunger for action at the door. That’s not to say there aren’t action bits in the title, but these come in bite-sized pieces. As I pointed out earlier, a majority of the game consists of 1) Paxton needing something, 2) Paxton talking to someone that can help him get that certain something, 3) Paxton being told the certain someone won’t do squat for him until he does something in return and 4) Paxton sneaking around in places he shouldn’t be in order to carry out this “transaction.” Unlike Metal Gear or Splinter Cell, though, there is no fight or flight if Paxton is discovered. If he is discovered in any way, the player’s game is finito right on the spot.

Obviously, in a prison, someone undercover can’t be killing guards that are just doing their job and putting their hands on staff, and being discovered in acts of espionage would jeopardize Paxton’s mission, so the mechanic has its merit. Regardless, this will no doubt infuriate any player who is used to being able to snap necks and duck under cardboard boxes, especially in the cases where the player will feel they were unfairly discovered (which will happen at least a few times, I guarantee it). What unfolds is a system of jumping from cover to cover to take advantage of some less than stellar AI, following predetermined routes, and going through actions such as unscrewing grates or power boxes and picking locks over and over again. While the beginning of the title unfolds all of the mechanics out in a satisfying progression within the first few chapters, the player will just see them repeated over and over again with nothing new to see gameplay wise for most of the game’s second half. Prison Break also liberally sprinkles in a gamut of quick-time events, and while the associated cinematics keep things tense, the overuse of the mechanic will likely have the player sick of it by the end of the game.

In order to keep the game from being ten chapters full of hide and seek, there are a number of chapter-based and voluntary arena fights to take part in. The prison yard even gives the player a bit of diversion in lifting weights and punching a heavy bag to bolster their fighting strength. Unfortunately, the arena fights are ultimately just a diversion, offering little to the gameplay aside from achievements and earning money, which is only spent on… tattoos? I thought the movies always showed us cons really wanted cigarettes and dirty magazines, but I digress.

On the positive side, there are a couple of chapters with some heavy hit and run fighting strings that really accelerate the pace of the title and the game could have definitely used one or two more of these to break up the linear monotony of the game overall. Engaging in a fight swings the camera into a view that is slightly awkward at first, leaving the player to flail about with a fast and heavy punch. Paxton does have access to reversals by pressing a block button at the point of enemy contact, but once the player learns the timing on this, all of the fights in the game are laughably easy. Overall, the fighting is a far cry from being a technical masterpiece, but it easily saves the game’s pacing and keeps Prison Break from being a complete fetch quest chore.

Although there isn’t much to the game’s controls, they do respond very well for the most part. The fighting is quite responsive and controlling the game is easy given the number of contextual options that continually remind players how they can interact with items and the environment. Players can press the B button to make Paxton stick to any cover and the ability to press X or Y to swing 90 degrees to another right angle cover or jump and stick to another cover point, respectively, makes things simple and affective. Any time I spent fighting the controls were in instances where context points were overly sensitive or occasionally in trying to disengage from a cover point, but these didn’t happen to the point where I felt the controls were frustrating.

In a nutshell, players learn all they need to learn within the first handful of chapters, and while the difficulty is balanced nicely around the chapter progression, the repetitive nature of the game and lack of features really kill Prison Break’s replayability and addictiveness. Baring the Prison Break license, though, the title is sure to bring in a flock of fans and fans of the stealth genre of games will no doubt have their heads turned by the presence of the title on store shelves. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not impossible to enjoy time spent with Prison Break: The Conspiracy. However, the title has a lot working against it, and even though the prison environment is a new spin on the genre, you won’t find anything that breaks new ground for stealth games, instead borrowing a lot of ideas from similar games and its source material. Fans of the show will no doubt want to get in on this sidestory to take in the full canon, which is its greatest selling point, and most of the game’s achievements will reward players with natural progression and fuel their progress. There are a few glowing points to be found in the title, it’s just unfortunate the player will have to trudge through a ton of repetition to enjoy Prison Break’s tastiest parts.

THE SCORES
Story/Modes: DECENT
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: BAD
Balance: DECENT
Originality: PRETTY POOR
Addiciveness: DECENT
Appeal Factor: GOOD
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:

Springing out of the joint and reliving Prison Break’s first season will no doubt be attractive to many gamers but Prison Break doesn’t do quite enough to capture this thrill. There are some highlights to see, especially if you are fan, and select gamers will actually have fun with the title, but this fun is buried under a ton of linearity, repetitiveness and groan-inducing levels of fetch questing. Respectable presentation and interesting story bits are dragged down by sluggish pacing, saved only by a couple of action-packed levels that fail to flesh out much of the story outside of the beginning and end. While players looking for action will want to steer clear, stealth fans and followers of the show may be able to get into the game, but they shouldn’t expect a wide selection of modes or much replayability for their money.

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