When A Way Out finds the stride that fits the length of its legs, it’s an engaging play. Wait...who the hell...what does that even mean!?
Two-player games are middle children. Video games have no desire nor need to pause and remember times when mano-y-mano meant something. All those times in domestic arenas that you versus your brother, sister, or friend could mean chores for the next month, or even seeing the end of your new favorite adventure? Nah. No time for it.
In a lot of ways, A Way Out harkens back to those times as a natural, simplified evolution.
As one of two inmates of a mean prison, either player will take their own angle into this tale of trust and revenge. Leo and Vincent have both come to this hole and end up having enough in common to see their way to an escape. Over the early scenes, both characters seem wary of the other inside of an environment that breeds paranoia. This makes some scenes in the yard or at lunch interesting with their inceptive elements.
The gameplay during those spots comes to be synoptic of A Way Out in general, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Elements in play often have hovering icons while fights and other movements are quick-time associated. There is a fair amount of pacing that can feel stretched way too thin at times with sluggish meandering. The proportions just feel out of whack with the action scenes very rarely feeling up to par with how long and far the table was set beforehand.
Then, you can run across an absolute masterpiece of cooperation that never loses a drop of momentum.
Around three-fourths of the way through the game, what breaks down to just a chase on paper plays out like a multi-level, revolving sprint through a changing labyrinth. Vincent and Leo are fighting their own battles, the camera is flinging through windows and resetting on the other character, and the net feels like it's closing. Everything is tensely directed, tightly framed, concise and simple to see, and A Way Out is finally challenging you on all cylinders. This 10-minute segment is the undeniable peak done with all the due passion to a set-piece action scene. That is what can make two-player experiences feel a million miles ahead of 100-person groups in actual structure.
That same segment casts a large shadow over the rest of the A Way Out as nothing but valleys. Sometimes it’s the gameplay letting you down with glitches or inaccuracy, other times it’s the dialogue dragging like bowling balls in mud. To the story specifically, so many moments feel truncated and ask the player to just keep walking down the pier to accept more and more half-told motivations. It’s a mystery that feels a little too high on itself at the best of times and doesn’t seem interested in the audience at its worst.
A Way Out does, despite my crabby clawing, have a punctuating end that doesn’t hold back. There are multiple roads to take (one clearly feeling better than the other) so going back through the chapter select is a pretty harmless way to see everything the game can give you. The reward, in this case, feels better than the journey - for all that’s worth.
The issues with the gameplay vary from disappearing objects to inane directions. One experience had fish that I had to spear swim into oblivion behind some rocks for 5 minutes. Another instance kept me frozen, aiming at approaching baddies for some minutes before my partner finally asked me to come along. Just about every aspect of the staging sections, especially those in the second act, could be improved upon with overall direction completely lacking. “Death” isn’t a fear in A Way Out. Going in circles is, and it’s virtually guaranteed.
Like I said though, when A Way Out finds the stride that fits the length of its legs, it’s an engaging play. I don’t ultimately love the time I spent with the rest of the game because of dialogue and pacing woes coupled with gameplay spasms. That being said, I’m glad to have played it and to see that Josef and his team aren’t giving up on 2-player experiences. A Way Out, if nothing else, is a flagship for a modern direction that more properties should follow.
A Way Out Score: