Let’s break out of prison.

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A Way Out is a recent videogame that goes against current trends by making the game two player only. The player controls one of two prisoners, hot-headed Leo or calculating Vincent, and must work together to break out of prison. The entire experience is in split screen, so you can see what the other person is doing at all times. The game can be played locally or online, and I for one am happy to see companies pushing more couch co-op options.

I love a good prison break story, and this is a setting that is rarely the focus of videogames. Several games have a prison break element, but this time the entire story revolves around the escape and what happens after.

The game fits into the dreaded “walking simulator” genre to a certain extent (at least the first half), but I don’t mind this type of interactive storytelling. The gameplay is primarily quick-time for the first half as you navigate your way around the prison. The game goes a good job making you feel tense as you must play lookout while the other works on filing down a sewer grate, or running cover for one of you to sneak away. The small mini-puzzles are mostly fun.

Where the game falters a bit is the quality of the puzzles. The guards in this prison are alarmingly dumb. It is too easy to figure out what is needed, and I think there were only two points where we were busted. The game contains a mature theme, which separates itself from The Escapists, but honestly, The Escapists has tougher prisons. The lack of mystery in how we were going to get out left the whole thing feeling a little too easy. Each night you get a little further, and then it is just one day to get the next tool. As said, the puzzles are fun, but there isn’t need for a lot of critical planning here.

The crux of the game is the characters. Leo is a smart-mouth hot-head, and he doesn’t take crap from anyone. His tough guy shtick is more amusing than threatening, and he does come off as a bit of a caricature—but I liked him. Vincent is more grounded, thoughtful, and thorough. The two are an odd pair, but each is interesting in their own ways.

The story is clichéd, through and through, and numerous scenes will remind you of other narratives or games. There are call backs to Shawshank Redemption, Kane and Lynch, and Heat to name a few. We also have scenes that reminded me of The Sopranos and Oz. I don’t think this sort of imitation is necessarily a bad thing, and the game is a bit of pulpy fun if nothing else.

The first half (while you are preparing for the break) is more enjoyable for me. Despite the relative ease of it, the last third of the game tries too hard to make an emotional appeal to the audience. Further, the spectacle of the narrative operates on an upward swing, and it doesn’t take long for things to cross from grounded to absurd. In a way, the game’s biggest fault is that it wanted to be grander than just a prison story, but the elements that are “just a prison story” are the most compelling.

For the obligatory gameplay critique: the game plays okay. Button pressing is fairly straight forward, though sometimes the response seemed a little delayed. Shooting and driving are fine, but nothing special. There is a certain chunkiness the the guns that makes the action segments somewhat tedious. The driving is somewhat chaotic, but the pathing is clear enough to make things understandable. The problem with the action sequences is that they go too far over the top to mean anything. Fleeing from one cop cap for a sustained period would have been more exciting than countless clones spawning in once we lost one.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about the game overall. While we played, the game was enjoyable, and I will always try to support games built around co-op, but the experience doesn’t have much of an after effect. The final third of the game is too over the top to want to replay, but I would replay the prison break segments. It is a fun, albeit derivative and shallow experience.

The price tag isn’t too steep, and waiting for a sale might be advised. The entire game can be completed in about seven hours. Overall, I think folks looking for something to jam with a friend this one should hit the mark—at least for an afternoon. 6/10

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