Prison Break: The Conspiracy Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Apr 12, 2010

The television series may have ended, but fans can revisit Fox River Penitentiary any time they miss the creepy musings of T-Bag or yearn to get inked up without the nagging worry of hepatitis. Unfortunately, some clunky combat and sluggish stealth sequences make this prison title a sobering lesson in hard time.

The Pros
  • Character voices from the television series
  • New perspective on first season's storyline
The Cons
  • Puts the "hell" in stealth
  • Disappointing combat
  • Boring versus mode

Prison Break: The Conspiracy is both a budget release and a game based on a television show, which are two bright red flags for anyone thinking about picking this up as a blind purchase. There's a limited amount of play value here, even for hardcore fans of the TV series, and the action can best be described as a stripped-down Splinter Cell clone, without the gadgets, diverse environments, or thrills. Alas, Prison Break has you working on mundane task after mundane task as if you were completing an errands list instead of playing a game.

Prison Break: The Conspiracy Review

Company Man

The most interesting part of Prison Break is its approach to the storyline. Rather than cast you in the role of lead protagonist Michael Schofield in his quest to rescue his half-brother, Lincoln Burrows, you instead play an investigative agent for the cabal-like organization known as The Company. The story otherwise follows the first season of the television show. Your character, Tom Paxton, has been sent to spy on Schofield and to ensure that Burrows fulfills his death sentence.

Up Close and Personal

One of the unofficial rules in prison, at least in its media portrayal, is that you have to earn the respect of fellow convicts to get anywhere. In the game, this means you have to pick some fights and do some legwork. A lot of legwork. After an uneventful bus ride to the prison, you'll go through a short tutorial on some of the basic controls and spend some time walking around the prison itself. The first thing you'll notice is how close the camera is positioned to your character's muscular back, which significantly restricts your field of view. Paxton also lumbers more than walks, so your first priority is to make friends with the sprint button if you don't want to spend ten minutes plodding from point A to point B.

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You'll also learn you can punch just about any inmate you want, which is honestly amusing at first, but ultimately pointless. The combat is extremely simple, limited to just mashing the X button for fast punches until your opponent is knocked out. You can also opt for more powerful swings, but since the wind-up is telegraphed all the way from Anchorage, Alaska, you'll find that it's best to go with the speedier option. Blocks and reversals are also part of your fighter's modest repertoire, and are as simple to perform as tapping a button. Fighting in Prison Break is closer to Double Dragon than Tekken.

Hide and Sneak

Fighting also plays second fiddle to the brunt of Prison Break's gameplay, which involves completing objectives that have you sneaking around certain locales while avoiding janitors, guards, security cameras, spotlights, and so forth. Here is where the close-up camera really becomes an issue, forcing you to use a cover system not necessarily to hide, but simply to get a better angle on where the guards are. Even then, you still don't have a complete picture. These stealth sequences aren't particularly exciting either, as your moves are almost all context specific, whether it's leaping from pipes along walls to moving hand over hand across scaffolding. You can't actually jump without an on-screen cue telling you when and where to do so. 

Prison Break includes some interactive lockpicking sequences, a few quick-time events, and the option to lift some weights or hit the heavy bag to gain some strength for underground fights, where you'll be able to earn cash. Yet money can only be used to purchase tattoos for your character, which offer no benefit whatsoever. And since 80% of the gameplay involves sneaking and climbing, there's little incentive to bulk up. When you're not retrieving an item during a stealth sequence, you're locating characters to speak with or objectives indicated by an "X" on a mini-map. And this format of walk, talk, peek, sneak is repeated throughout the game's nine chapters. Some side activities or collectibles would have been welcome, such as gambling a pack of smokes in poker, whittling a shiv, or the always unnerving activity of scooping up soap in the showers. Talk about missed opportunities...

Prison Break: The Conspiracy Review

Free at Last

Prison Break: The Conspiracy exists only to enhance your appreciation of games like Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, and Batman: Arkham Asylum for how well they integrate stealth and combat within the framework of an engaging storyline. While there are three difficulty settings and a local versus option for one-on-one fights against a friend, Prison Break does nothing distinctive enough to even justify a weekend rental. Unless you’re a fan of the series gullible enough to pick it up or you’re an Achievement/Trophy hunter willing to endure punishment to pad your score, skip this one. When finishing the game feels like you've earned time off for good behavior, there's something not quite right.