It was during the quieter moments of playing A Way Out when I realized how truly delightful the experience as a whole was. My co-op partner and I had just finished an intense chase scene and begun a portion of the game analogous to the “scavenger hunt” portions of a Telltale game. We both walked around separately on our split screens talking to NPCs until I had discovered a small baseball minigame. I picked up a bat and began swinging as an NPC threw curve balls at me. My partner stopped what they were doing, walked over, and took over the pitching position. We played this baseball minigame for way too long before we continued on with the game’s main storyline. A Way Out’s biggest draw is its co-op narrative experience but the times when the game shines most are when it stops trying to be a prison escape drama and instead experiments with interesting forms of player interaction.
Trying to define A Way Out by a genre is difficult because in the words of the game’s lead developer, Josef Fares, in A Way Out you’re never doing the same thing twice. This holds true throughout a lot of the game. This means I can’t really call it strictly an adventure game or a walking simulator because segments of the game completely subvert expectations set by those labels. Even calling A Way Out an action-adventure seems disingenuous. It’s a cinematic experience combined with various scenarios that you and your co-op partner need to complete and the game’s willingness to not stick to a strict formula is refreshing. The game has the mechanics in place to be stealth game or a third person action shooter, but opts to place these elements where they are needed rather than shoe horn them in unnecessarily to pad gameplay.
A Way Out has players take control of two prisoners, Vincent and Leo, whose stories see them try to break out of prison. From that premise, the narrative expands and the backstories of these characters develop as we learn about the characters’ pasts and underlying motivations. The story itself can be predictable as A Way Out uses just about every prison escape cliche in the book. Fans of Shawshank Redemption, Prison Break, or any piece of prison-life inspired fiction will be familiar with a lot of the tropes used. There are the prison fights, the shankings, the visitation drama and everything in between. All in all, the story itself is not fantastic. However, the way the story keeps the players engaged with the game itself is what makes it shine.
The story and gameplay in A Way Out paced well as my co-op partner and I were kept consistently entertained. There were occasions of tension where my partner and I had disagreements on how to approach a situation. There were also adventure game inspired puzzle solving moments which would regularly be frustrating; yet, with another person playing these moments were not as tedious. Right when an activity in the game would wind down, something else would usually pick up and as a social gaming experience, A Way Out’s multiplayer dynamic felt fun and well balanced with the way the story flowed.
The cinematic approach of A Way Out is one of its touted features and for the most part, the game succeeds in delivering. The way the game transitions in and out of cutscenes combined with the in game dialog makes for a filmlike presentation. This is a bit dampened by the textures in the game which were noticeably unimpressive given the rest of A Way Out’s presentation. Moments of beauty within the scenery at some points could be ruined by just looking closely at a surface or staring at a character’s hair. The performances of the characters range from okay to good with the two main characters’ performances being about acceptable. I was never truly distracted by their performances; however, for a game with a focus on cinematic delivery some of the less than great acting sticks out.
Thankfully by the end of the game, A Way Out doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, the game concludes with one of the best endings I have experienced in a game in recent memory. From both a story and gameplay perspective, what the game builds within its five hours is paid off phenomenally and even displays the type of storytelling that only video games can uniquely deliver. As credits rolled, me and my co-op partner were taken aback.
A Way Out is a special game because of its willingness to try something new. The way it combines cooperative play and a narrative-driven cinematic experience is an impressive feat because each scene in the game has to be constructed with thought and care. The game doesn’t forget to play with the idea of providing a fun social experience and despite a couple of shortcomings in presentation and writing, all in all A Way Out is an adventure worth having.