A Way Out (Xbox One Review)
There’s a large portion of the population that, for one reason or another, elevate a specific day of the week above all others. Some observe their respective Sabbath, while others reserve their chosen day to take some time for themselves and administer a big ol’ dose of self-care. Wednesday was my day, or should I say our day. Every Wednesday, for what felt like the better part, Scotch Rat, Scotch Rat’s dad, Scotch Rat’s cousin, and I would all push together whatever TVs were lying around his Gran’s and share a rather small couch. As days dropped off the calendar there were less and less games to play on one or two consoles, especially as a unit of four. So when I heard A Way Out could capture half of what those days meant to me I was elated.
Although the heyday of my couch coop was built on the bonds of friendship, A Way Out is a story born on necessity. The common goals of working to achieve a common goal in my personal life and A Way Out run parallel, but within A Way Out there is always an ever-present unease. At the heart lies a tale of two criminals and their ambition to break free of jail. No matter what happens after they achieved their goal, they weren’t going to be friends eternal. For me, this apparent lack of camaraderie was the downfall of gratification I wanted to share with my best friend. Instead I was faced with two characters that never quite felt at ease with each other pushing through whatever boundaries the other throw up. As both player confronts their own personal life, the other is often left at the front door – literally. It was never clear that the two players were remotely close to bonding and, thanks to some lacklustre story coupled with some tired tropes, it was hard to engage with the rather soulless progression of Vincent and Leo’s relationship.
Even if the relationship was strained, which is total expected in a pseudo jailhouse bromance, a good story would help elevate and emphasise the conflict between the two to A Way Out’s benefit. That’s probably A Way Out’s biggest flaw, the story kind of sucks. Even with a litany of jail break movies and similar tales of drug kingpins, A Way Out instantly jumps to the open arms of the flogged horses of the genres, like Scarface and Oldboy. The scenes, no matter how well cut, scream copycat as opposed to homage. Where the likes of Tarantino honours would honour his influences, A Way Out straight up lifts the scenes and lays some rather strained dialogue over the top. It’s a shame when you take a moment to appreciate how A Way Out effortlessly stretches and contorts the screen to ensure that you focus on the right areas.
Between the awkwardly reminiscent cinematic moments, there’s a game that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Outside of the main narrative push, you are confronted with exceptionally easy problems to solve and the occasional devised competitive minigame. At first I laughed giddily along as Scotch Rat and I stumbled upon a gym that allowed both players to frantically wear out their controllers trying to achieve a higher score, but by the fifth derivative of what was effectively the same thing but with a different piece of gym equipment all hope was lost. By the final section of A Way Out the game devolves into another generic shooter that only serves as a painful reminder that we used to have it so much better.
Thankfully there are some reprieves in the graphics and the editing I previously touched on. There’s a conscious effort to do something different with A Way Out. At its core there is a clear and undeniably devotion to creating a cooperative experience. As scenes blend in and out, you never feel like you are cut off from the action, which is an ongoing issue of mine in other cooperative games. Instead of one player running ahead and divulging in all the juicy action while you stagger through dialogue options with a hypochondriac in a waiting room, you are faced with a divide in the screens that grows and twists to highlight the significance of one player’s actions. It’s a neat gimmick that works so well alongside the caricatured design to a point that it feels similar to a comic, but that’s where the praise stops. While testing out A Way Out on both an Xbox One and an Xbox One X, there is clear jump in performance with the former suffering significantly at busier sections – which is a worrying trend of recent games in this generation.
When we finally reached the long drawn out end of A Way Out, there was a sigh of relief and a longing for the old days. I instantly jumped to fond memories of Army of Two, Kane & Lynch, and Halo while Scotch Rat rekindled fond minigames from the likes of Fuzion Frenzy and Kung Fu Chaos. With such a scattergun approach, there was no way A Way Out ever really had a chance to shine at what it could be. The end product is nothing more than a vehicle of reflection, which I don’t feel is an accurate reflection of what the developers are capable of. Deep down, and I mean really deep down, there are a lot of inspired ideas waiting to be fleshed out but A Way Out clearly wasn’t the title to help them bubble up to the surface.