Critical Play: A Way Out

Tyler T. Su
Game Design Fundamentals
3 min readNov 2, 2020


A Way Out

Players control Leo and Vincent, two convicted prisoners who must break out of prison and stay on the run from authorities. Players need to cooperate in order to progress, solving “puzzles” in order to break out.

Interestingly, situations can be approached differently depending on the player’s decisions. Moreover, the game has no single-player option: it is only playable in either online or local split screen co-op between two players.

The unique co-op style made it a success, selling over a million copies within the first two weeks of its release.

Creating fun through novel

A Way Out primarily creates fun by adding the co-op twist on the classic prison escape genre. It is unlike any other game, which explains its highly praised critical reception. Players share a split screen and explore the world from that character’s unique perspective, intersecting at times to cooperate on puzzles for the escape.

Split screen play

Character-driven puzzle solutions

The next standout mechanic is the character set up. Players choose between either Leo or Vincent, who have vastly different personalities. This affects players’ approach to puzzles, as players begin to embody the mannerisms of their characters and are prompted to choose between several possible approaches to puzzles, based on Leo’s more aggressive ideas or Vincent’s calculated methods. The explicit connection between character and puzzle solutions allows the narrative to shine, and the puzzles to feel integral to the story.

While other escape games may struggle to make puzzles feel natural to the plot progression, A Way Out relies on puzzles to deepen our understanding of the characters and story. We come to know the characters not just through cutaways or exposition, but also through the very approaches we take to puzzles when embodying them.

Choosing between solution approaches

Four types of play-activities

A Way Out creates fun at every level:

  • Story. The story in itself is fascinating and heartfelt. Superficially, Leo and Vincent are both criminals. However, as you progress through the narrative, you learn more about the circumstances that led them to their crimes. In the process, you come to understand and sympathize with the characters.
Story emerges through the play
  • Toys. The game allows you to play and fiddle with the environment. You talk to other inmates, work out on the playground, or small talk in the cafeteria. It creates fun through fantasy.
Fiddling with the environment
  • Puzzles. At various stages of the game, you must solve puzzles in order to progress. Some examples include finding a path to steal a key, navigate underground tunnels, or simply fix a stolen car in order to escape.
Figuring out how to breakout
  • Games. The very escape game genre transforms these puzzles into a cohesive game. This is put on full display when you are being chased by police NPCs, who are always quick on your trail. These “opposing players” are what transform puzzles into actual games, where a “win” is the escape.
The final escape

Try it yourself

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Tyler T. Su
Game Design Fundamentals

Design + Engineering @ Stanford | Incoming Product Designer @ Roblox