So, the Jambags team (i.e., Dante and yours truly) managed to drag ourselves away from pretending to write podcasts and actually do some gaming together with the start of a double act playthrough of A Way Out, the EA sponsored title from Josef Fares, the mastermind behind indie classic Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
Now this game is co-op only and is predominantly split screen. You can’t play it on your own. You can, in theory, look for randos to play with online but it is meant to be played with a friend, either in local or online co-op. That said, there is a neat feature where only one person needs to buy the game and the other player can download the demo and be invited by the owner. Being the decent chaps we are, Dante and myself split the cost and sat down to play.
So the game is set in a prison and follows two convicts as they try to escape for their own personal reasons. To be clear, we are only a few hours into the game and what we played covered their plans and execution to escape from prison. At the start, you pick a character and play in split screen, helping each other out and working together to escape. Now, this isn’t a review of the game, I’m sure Dante will share his opinions shortly. Suffice to say, I liked what I have played and it kept the two of us engaged in a long play session together – which is saying something as we have the attention span of a goldfish with a head injury.
What I want to talk about is the missed opportunities the story takes with my favourites of the prison genre. Sure there is the obligatory new guy scene, the prison fights and implied repressiveness but the prison scenes are far more conservative than Oz or Prisoner Cell Block H. When I want prison tropes, I want them as stereotyped as possible. Where is the stand in for ‘The Freak’ and the sadistic prison warden with the black leather gloves? Where is the clash between a well to do therapist and their violent hard nosed Warden who thinks all criminals should be treated badly? Some cigarettes are swapped for things but nothing is hidden up anyones arse. That would have made a great mini game – where is the imagination? No one hides anything in a birthday cake to help them to escape. Where is the old guy who can’t handle being released so does something horrible to stay? Absolutely no one has a little pet animal that they pour all their love and attention into, only for some meanie to squish its cute little head in. Where is the blind forger begging to be taken along for the prison escape? Ok so that last one is from The Great Escape but you get the idea.
What this shows is that A) I watch too many films and B) there is a reason that I am not a game developer. The makers of A Way Out haven’t quite avoided cliche but they have gone nowhere near as hog wild as I would given the opportunity. In fact, had I written it, most of the gameplay would have been the character slowly tunnelling for 10 years through a solid brick wall. Which would mean that instead of selling over a million copies in a month, A Way Out would have sunk harder than Leo in Titanic.
I guess I better get busy playing or get busy missing stereotypes.