9 daring video game prison breaks

Don't drop the soap

They say that prison changes a man - changes him for life. His voice deepens, his body develops, and he begins to sprout hair where there was no hair before - no wait, wrong article. The point is that the whole process of imprisonment can have a dramatic transformative effect on those incarcerated. Unsurprisingly, this concept of an adult daycare centre, bursting with honking great maniacs and daily, shower-based shenanigans provides video games with an excellent source of inspiration.

And what could be more involving than an all-or-nothing escape attempt? Parole hearings, prayer groups and a five-year corrections course are all well and good, but I want out, and Morgan Freeman isn't just going to find that letter all by his lonesome. So, without much further ado, here's a list of nine great gaming prison breaks. Oh, and I'm only counting proper prisons here, so no crazy old asylums or desolated science labs. Enjoy!

Fable (Bargate Prison)

Setup: Chicken-kicking superstar - the Hero of Oakvale - attempts to spring his own mother from the bowels of Bargate prison. Sadly, as with all things Peter Molyneux-related, such generous intent typically results in massive amounts of torture. Captured by the nefarious Jack of Blades, players are made to endure an entire year's worth of dank, uber-smelly captivity, before an ill-considered prison competition gives rise to an unlikely escape.

The escape: In recognition of the warden's super sweet 16 (actual age unknown) Bargate's cast of cutthroats are forced to race around the castle ramparts. Their goal: to drag their broken and battered bodies toward the finish line in as fast a time as possible. Upon completion, the winning entrant (and it really ought to be you, given that the hero still looks like an oiled-up Adonis) receives a private poetry recital from the big man himself. Simply nab his keys, open up the cells, and unleash a tidal wave of toothless scum on the unsuspecting guards. They may have tried to shank you in the shower on Sunday, but these half-starved maniacs certainly know their way around a good prison beating.

Resistance 3 (Graterford Prison)

Setup: Joe Capelli is having a rough time. Hounded by the Chimera for weeks, driven out of his home, and recently forced to kill a massive mutant worm, he's ready for a breather. No rest for the wicked, though. He gets captured by a bunch of survivalist humans, and taken to Graterford prison. There he fights other inmates with a concrete rebar, much to the amusement of the 'wardens'.

The escape: Ironically, Capelli is forced to turn to the Chimera to help him escape. The prison is hidden from attack by captured drones, which send an all-clear signal to the alien hordes. Once they're sabotaged, though, the Chimera are all over the prison like a prepubescent girls on Bieber. Capelli manages to escape in the confusion, after an almighty gun-battle against two different foes. It's one of the best set-pieces in the game, and finally gives you a chance to the use the excellent Mutator weapon. Oh, please make another Resistance, Insomniac. Go on. I'll pretend to like Sunset Overdrive and everything.

Deus Ex (Majestic 12 Prison)

Setup: In a twist of truly obvious proportions, shady government kill-squad UNATCO turns out to be the bad guys (*zoom in on traumatized face*). They're also the player character's chief source of employment, which makes all of those recent dealings with the NSF terrorist organisation something of an unwise career move. So, get ready to wave goodbye to that pension plan Mr Denton - oh and your freedom too, be sure to hand that back in at the door. After enduring the horror of a New York City subway ride, the player quickly finds themselves set upon by one Gunther Hermann, a muscle-bound cyber operative tasked with dragging him back to 'Majestic 12'.

The escape: Despite sounding like a one-hit wonder indie band from the early 2000's, Majestic 12 is - in fact - a fairly robust detention centre. Fortunately for Denton he has a mysterious man on the inside, a 'deepthroat'-esque informant going by the name of Daedelus. Having contacted the player via audio implant, Daedelus promises to cut the facility's power just long enough to allow Denton to escape. From there on out, our moody hero must scrap, sneak and steal his way past numerous numbskull guards before reaching the exit and his own office at UNATCO HQ!? *even faster zoom* You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you all to hell!

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (Coldman's Prison Facility)

Setup: Snake and Sons (Ltd.) certainly do enjoy themselves a good prison break. There's been one in almost every mainline Metal Gear title ever released. At this point however, it's getting rather hard to tell whether Hideo Kojima simply prefers beating his Snake or asking us to let it out for him. Wait, no - What I mean is - are we really meant to enjoy both of these scenarios equally, or is one merely the awful entre to the other? If Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is any indication, then a truly thrilling escape attempt requires an equally sadistic alternative.

The escape: Without the option to switch difficulties, Snake's electroshock suffering presents a real problem. Tossed into a dirty cell, with little time to plan out an escape, (before the next bout of thumb-splitting misery kicks in) those players who failed to retrieve Dr. Strangelove's ID card in the last level will find breaking out of their chamber an unusual proposition. Thought the 'Escape From Alcatraz' plan was intricate? Try pulling out a length of razor wire stitched into Snake's chest as a homage to the caesarean scar of his long-dead former mentor, (who may or may not have been the greatest American hero/ traitor in history) before slicing through your locked door and jumping the many, many guards on duty. With zero weapons. In absolute silence. With no shirt on (it's drafty, okay?).

Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (Oovo IV Republic Prison Facility ' Desolation Alley')

Setup: Jango Fett is hot on the trail of a mysterious drug-pushing cult. Unfortunately for him, the group's mouthy middleman, a certain Bendix Fust is currently serving hard time in a Republic detention centre. In order to retrieve the information he seeks, Fett must first break into the maximum-security setup, find, and question Fust before eventually breaking back out again. Oh, and he's not alone: a fellow Mandalorian is busy pulling the equivalent of copying out Jango's algebra homework and using it to stay ahead. Yep, he's kind of a douche, and no, we really shouldn't have to fight him three times throughout the game.

The escape: Fett's escape is a bit of an unusual example, given that he's a) not a proper inmate and b) armed to the teeth with rockets. Still, he's trapped inside of a building specifically designed for trapping people and that's good enough for me. With his blaster-happy antics inciting a full-on prison riot, players must guide this gruff mercenary past wave-after-wave of guards, prisoners and riot teams in pursuit of his fleeing prey. Aside from a quick jaunt in the ventilation system this is perhaps the simplest form of prison break imaginable: shoot, run, shoot some more, and high tail it to your waiting vehicle. Did the boys in blue blow it up? Simply steal one of theirs instead and use it to smash every other craft capable of catching you.

The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion (Imperial Prison, Cyrodiil)

Setup: Remember that time you woke up in a drunk tank, only to discover the Queen of England rummaging around your cell, pressing random bricks and regaling you with the tale of her many visions (of which you were a prominent part). No? Oh, so maybe the fourth entry in The Elder Scrolls series isn't all that representative of the typical prison experience. Hell, most cells don't come complete with their very own escape hatch, let alone a complimentary visit from the most recognisable monarch in existence.

The escape: Emperor Septim's unlikely appearance is by no means the end of your character's sufferings. Escaping the meagre confines of your cell is only the beginning here. No sooner has this friendly King of Kings invited you to tag along, than dear old Septim is busy ragdolling around on the ground like a super-old, dead fella. After finishing off his assassins (possibly the lowest level killers in existence) the future Hero of Kvatch must quickly navigate a series of deadly dungeons, each brimming with zombies, goblins and giant rats before bursting forth into the Cyrodiil sunlight. Shawshank's Andy Dufresne may have ended up caked in fecal matter but at least he didn't have to fight off hordes off failed predecessors in the process.

Saints Row 2 (Stilwater Penitentiary)

Setup: Say what you will about the increasingly cushy lives of convicts: prison life isn't really living, is it? Of course, narrowly avoiding your own fiery, explosive death might make you more inclined to appreciate the little things - like having a pulse. The leader of the 3rd Street Saints evidently agrees, following up his miraculous survival in the first game with a hasty (and surprisingly straightforward) prison break.

The escape: Boy, it sure was swell of those guards to leave you in here un-sedated, unrestrained and with ample access to pointy objects. Hey look, they've even thrown in a potential accomplice, someone who knows the prison complex inside out and just shrugs off shiv attacks like it ain't no thing. Starting out in the infirmary building, players are given the choice of quietly 'sneaking' to the upper level or re-enacting the entire police station shootout scene from Terminator 1. Of course, this being the world of Saints Row, both options get loud in a flash, with a whole host of police officers (and helicopters) eagerly awaiting your arrival on the other side. Oh, and did we mention you're on an island (because you are) which means commandeering a boat, and a massive Schwarzanegger-level machine gun with which to defend it.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (The Dungeon of the La Velettes)

Setup: Nothing screams gritty fantasy like a combination of boobs and regional British accents. Yes, the Witcher 2 certainly has a lot of grime on offer, including a surprisingly stealthy, dark jailbreak sequence set early on in the game. After being accused of the high crime of kingslaying (let's all give him a hand) player character Geralt of Rivia is tossed into a grimey, old-timey dungeon, and tasked with luring each of his guards to their doom.

The escape: Fortunately for Geralt, they've only managed to clap him in irons here - which according the laws of Hollywood screenwriting must burst open at the first sign of any potential escape. Ok, ok, so maybe he was slipped a key, but considering his arms were completely akimbo at the time, it's tough to tell how exactly he used it. Long story short, Geralt can either sweet talk or intimidate his captors into unlocking his cell, before unleashing a whole bunch of punches to their mushy, pockmarked faces. Next up is a veritable gauntlet of guards, none of whom look too happy to see the old white wolf, assuming of course that they can see him. Geralt's little adventure even features a wee bit of outside assistance, as Shilard Fitz-Oesterlen, a wily ambassador turns up to offer some much needed misdirection.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (Butcher Bay Correctional Facility)

Setup: The gravelly-throated father of all prison break sequences, 2004's Escape From Butcher Bay is all just one big bust out bonanza. Having been captured by long-time archrival William Johns, Riddick soon finds himself interned within the galaxy's greatest maximum-security prison. Brace yourself: this is an epic.

The escape: Where to begin? Ah, right - at the beginning. After being tossed in with the other max-security captives, Riddick quickly manages to upset Butcher Bay's delicate balance of power, unleashing a mass riot in the process and getting himself shipped off to the double max mining facility. Here, the player is tasked with braining enough would-be-thugs to raise the attention of a less-than-upstanding security chief, voiced by rapper Xzibit (yo dawg, I heard you like cameos, so we put a rapper, inside a prison, inside yo' video game). With the chief dead, Riddick sets to work on a bomb big enough to distract the guards and force a route to the nearby docking bay. When the bomb accidentally unleashes a whole host of nasty critters, Riddick is instead sent down to triple max. This level features enforced cryosleep, forcing Riddick to get creative in order to miss his meds, which he achieves by trading places with another inmate and kicking his way out of the stasis tube. One little detour later - Riddick just had to kill that warden - and the longest damn prison break in gaming is complete.

Honorable Mentions...

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost & the Damned (Alderney State Correctional Facility)
Rockstar capped off 2009's Lost & the Damned DLC with an all-out prison assault for the ages. With Johnny Klebitz and co. looking to silence a former colleague (and do so in as loud a manner as possible) Alderney State Correctional Facility briefly becomes the site of a bloody and protracted battle. Highlights include an explosive entrance ("no cage can hold me!") a mass gunfight in the main yard, and one final meeting with the treacherous Bill Grey. Still, this is more a break-in than a break-out so it doesnt really count.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane)
Some would say that Bruce Wayne is always a prisoner--at least where the mad whims of the Joker are concerned. Here, the clown prince of crime quite literally entraps his Dark Knight nemesis within the thick stone walls of the Arkham asylum. Of course, even the presence of many non-psychotic felons can't change the fact that this is first and foremost an asylum (i.e. not quite a proper prison). Better luck next time Bats.

Portal (Aperture Science's Enrichment Centre)
Portal's puzzle solving protagonist Chell wakes up in a swanky laboratory and immediately sets her sights on escape. With an artificial intelligence named GLaDOS playing the part of the warden, Portal feels very much like a high-tech jailbreak. Sadly, as with Arkham, the game's oppressive setting doesn't quite constitute a regular prison environment. Sorry.

Time to kick some ass

Congratulations, you just crawled to freedom through two thousand words of loose soil and human faeces. Sort of. Have your say in the comments below. Quick tip: print out this article, fold it repeatedly and glue together for an instant shiv.

Want more features to pass the time while you're doing porridge? Here's one about 8 Things That Makes Grown Gamers Cry, and this other thing on The Most Ludicrous Game Hardware Knock-Offs. Ok. Bye then.

Samuel James Riley
When he's not busy saving small animals from dangerous brush fires, Sam enjoys writing about the weird world of video games. All-time favourites include Half-Life 2, Knights of the Old Republic, GTA: Vice City and Final Fantasy 10. Last year, Sam finally succeeded in besting Rayman 1 for PlayStation, leaving his life utterly without meaning.