A Way Out is one of those games that never fully captures your attention. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Last Saturday, I sat down with my 64-year-old father to play through A Way Out. We both like prison break movies just fine, but Dad is a casual gamer at best, having spent the last three years or so playing through the single-player campaigns of Destiny and Destiny 2.
As we played, he would mention his suspicions that the game would be far more difficult by the time our day was through. That never happened. Instead, we spent about seven or so hours together sitting in my apartment, laughing, playing, and eating pizza. We played through the entire campaign of A Way Out, but it certainly wasn’t what I took away from the day. None of that actually feels negative in retrospect.
There were plenty of times when I was playing where I would actively think about how bored I was, or how little I would enjoy playing this with my League of Legends, Destiny or World of Warcraft crew. But by the end, I was glad to have spent the time with my father in a rare, all-day hangout session.
This is where A Way Out differentiates itself from other co-op games. If I were to invite my dad to a Destiny raid, I would be playing Destiny with my father. To play a game like Destiny with someone is to focus on the game first and the hangout second. On Saturday, we were spending time together while we played A Way Out, an almost exact opposite experience. The difference is subtle, but it’s there
A Way Out is forgiving in almost every aspect. The checkpoints never really make you replay much to get back to where you want to go and the objective indicator is almost too directed. Even in the more puzzle-oriented sections, the two of us could casually figure out what needed to be done in a few seconds while we talked about our lives. But this is where A Way Out finds its niche.
Where A Way Out succeeds is in how well it captures the atmosphere of a cable movie. If I go over to my parents house and the TV is on, there’s a good chance that we aren’t really watching it. Instead, we’re sitting together and talking while Goodfellas plays quietly behind us. We didn’t put the movie on, despite owning it, it just appeared on whatever channel they happened to be watching.
It’s familiar, but you can’t help but at least keep an eye on it. The conversation of the room ebbs and flows between talking about life, talking about the movie we’re casually watching, and stopping conversation altogether to focus on the TV for our favorite scenes.
There are so many movies that are perfect cable movies, but not many games can claim that coveted position. A Way Out can. It isn’t particularly polished or mechanically interesting. There is nothing about the game that makes me want to sit down and play it again. I’m sure my dad doesn’t even remember the name of the character he chose to play. But if I went over to someone’s house and A Way Out was on the TV, I would sit down and play it.
A Way Out hooks you the same way the average Netflix show might. It has its up and down moments that you’re seemingly meant to care about more than others. Watching the perspectives shift and seeing the novel use of co-op is almost breathtaking for the first 20 minutes. But as you move forward, it holds your hand tight (yet kept our interest loose) as it pulls you through the rest of the game’s narrative. And like a Netflix show, you come out on the other end happy with the time you’ve spent, even if you barely remember what you just saw.
At the end of this year, I won’t remember the details of A Way Out, not exactly at least. But I’ll remember the day I spent with my dad. And one day I know we’ll sit down and have a laugh together trying to remember all the details of that one game where we broke out of prison.
The game isn’t built for you to play it with your hardcore video game Discord server, it’s meant to be played with your friends and family members who think video games are too complicated nowadays. It’s a family affair, a good game to throw on the TV when you’re slightly inebriated and entertaining a small group of old friends.
With A Way Out, it isn’t about the journey or the destination, it’s about the people you played with along the way.