I think we all can agree that playing games with your friends is fun.

Whether you’re enjoying some vehicular mayhem in Rocket League, or awkwardly groping each other in Gang Beasts or Genital Jousting, the couch is a great place to play video games together.

But party games and weird brawlers don’t hold complete dominion over your furniture.

A Way Out hopes to prove that serious, narrative-driven co-op experiences have a place on your couch as well. Sadly, it fails to do so.

A Way Out is a new experimental game from the makers of the indie darling Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Experimental in the sense that it tries to do a lot of things to see what works and what doesn’t. And most of it doesn’t.

You and a friend play as the two convicts Leo and Vincent. The two can’t be more different (or so you’re told), but both are fueled by revenge against the same person they hold responsible for their incarceration. Together, they formulate a not-so-clever escape plan and go on a short mission to take said revenge.

It’s a somewhat generic story that’s ripped off straight from a ’90s movie and plays pretty much as you’d expect.

But A Way Out’s hook isn’t the by-the-numbers story. It’s the way it approaches co-op.

The only way to play A Way Out is in split-screen, with one player controlling Leo and another controlling Vincent. Basically, the game “forces” you to play with a friend (I’ve heard of people playing the game by themselves, but that’s just dumb). You can play both online and offline co-op, but Hazelight clearly designed the game with couch co-op in mind.

This concept is refreshing in and of itself. It’s been a while since I’ve played a serious co-op game, so I was excited to have a good friend over for a night of prison-escaping and revenge-taking.

Unfortunately, A Way Out turns out to be really, really boring. I actually had to nudge my friend awake a few times during our playthrough. You can blame the late hour or the full day of work we just came home from, but I choose to blame the fact that nothing you do in the game is exceptionally challenging or exciting.

A Way Out review - Co-op

There is actually plenty of gameplay variety in A Way Out: you run, drive, shoot, punch, sneak and more. The problem is that the game never utilizes this variety in a way that feels natural. You can always see how forced everything is – now you are shooting; now you are sneaking; now you are running away. The transitions between these segments are jarring, and they never quite compliment each other.

It’s pretty obvious A Way Out tries to channel the cinematic feel of games like of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and The Last of Us, but just can’t pull it off. In one short segment you frantically stumble down a hill while cops shoot at you, and in another, you punch your way out of a hospital. There are quite a few of these action-packed moments, and while they are still somewhat exciting compared to the rest of the game, they lack the sense of urgency and thrill you’d expect.

They just sort of… happen, and once they’re over you go back to slowly wandering around a small open area, looking for things to interact with.

That is the majority of what you’ll do in A Way Out. Before you reach one of the action-packed moments at the end of a chapter, you walk about the place looking for things to do. You could just perform the action that will advance the game forward (usually something straightforward), or you can explore and find other nonsense to do. And you should.

Everything that isn’t directly related to the plot is kind of enjoyable. You can practice your batting skills in a trailer park, arm wrestle in a construction site, or play the worst version of pong I’ve ever seen. These distractions are the most fun I had in the game, mainly because they are much more like to all those party games that work so well in co-op.

For most of the game, you don’t actually feel like you’re playing co-op. Yes, there are always two characters on screen, but they barely interact with each other outside of the distractions mentioned above. You walk around separately, interact with objects separately and talk to people separately.

A Way Out review - Driving

The few instances you do require two people to solve usually consist of pressing a button at the same time or have one player drive a car while the other shoot. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

However, the aspect co-op helps the most is the game’s replay value. You can make it through the campaign in about 5-6 hours, which is a decent length for a story-driven indie game. While most of it plays in a relatively linear fashion, there are a few diverging paths. They don’t change the story as a whole, but each does lead to a different gameplay segment.

For example, you can choose to take Leo’s idea and drive through a police barricade, or listen to Vincent and try sneaking your way past it. Both players must come to an agreement on which path to take, but you can always go back and try the other option just to see what could have happened.

You might also want to play a few chapters a second time using the other character. You’ll get to experience slightly different gameplay, especially during the hospital chapter which is by far the game’s strongest one.

A Way Out is a highly experimental game, with a clever concept at its core. But instead of doing something that’s actually interesting or innovative, the developers just threw a bunch of ideas and gameplay mechanics at it to see what sticks.

It’s a good experiment, one that might lead to a future with some excellent story-driven couch co-op games. Unfortunately, A Way Out won’t be part of that future.


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