Path out is a unique game, certainly unlike any I’ve ever played before. It takes gamification to a whole new level by making you play as a Syrian refugee trying to escape conscription into a civil war you don’t believe in or agree with. What makes it so unique though isn’t its approach to this sensitive subject, but the fact that it’s based on a true story, the refugee (Abdullah Karam) narrates certain parts of the game and that it’s designed with the look and feel of a classic JRPG.
I should have said from the start, it’s a very special game. The storytelling is done in such a compelling way that you feel like you’re being pulled through the game. This isn’t a jaunt in Syria, you literally have no choice but to continue playing to get to the end of the story. The narrator/protagonist (depending on if you’re talking about real life or the game) occasionally pops up into the top left of your screen to provide commentary on what you’re doing.
It’s looks like a YouTube set up but never feels like it’s jarring the experience – mostly because Karam is so genuine and interesting in his updates. The drama and shock that the first appearance of these little videos generates is enough to get you hooked. I won’t spoil it because I think it was my favourite moment of the game – it’s the moment you realise that you’re not just controlling a 2D character, you’re trying to complete the perilous journey that hundreds of thousands of men, women and in this case, children and young people have attempted in the last few years.
This is a game though, so let’s talk about the impressions of the actual gameplay. It’s actually pretty solid. The first chapter is a little bit point and clicky with you tasked with finding the items required to escape your home in Syria. While not particularly challenging or punishing, your tasks are gently interspersed with anecdotes that reveal an underlying threat. Take the part where you have to go and borrow a bigger light for your mum from your uncle. The game uses this little task to reinforce that Syria has always been troubled and reveal that your uncles wife (your aunt) died in the 1983 uprising. So it’s interesting that the basic elements of the game are elevated by infusing them with additional story.
And the story is harrowing. Karam is a teenage boy, just finished high school, who loves playing video games. That’s the character you’re trying to smuggle out of Syria and into Turkey. It’s intimidating and scary enough, but to make matters even more weighty the updates from the protagonist via pop in videos explain what each part of the journey was actually like. His description of what it was like to meet a man you’ve never met before, trust him to get you past the so-called Islamic State group and then be left by the man in place you’ve never been before is enough to open your eyes to what most refugees have gone through – if you didn’t already know.
Fortunately, given the game covers such a harrowing topic, there’s also a generous dollop of humour in here. From Karam damning a portrait for Bashar Al-Assad because power cuts have caused his Xbox to cut out before he could reach a save point to meeting a young ‘‘Marxist’ from America who is completely at his wit’s end because he’s lost his mobile phone (the very epitome of capitalism) – this game is littered with lighthearted humour. The best thing about this is that it never feels out of place. It lightens the mood while simultaneously helping you ground this story in reality.
Overall, first impressions of Path Out are overwhelmingly positive. I’ve only played the first chapter and I know I want to play more. But more than that, I want to find out more about the struggle that refugees across the world are faced with. It’s a game that you’ll enjoy playing, find the things it teaches you interesting and will hopeful inspire some people to look beyond their PCs and safe, warm homes to consider the misfortune that has unfairly visited some of the people – who are just like you and I – across the world.