I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when I saw A Way Out at E3 2017. Not only did it look amazing with its appealing story-line, but also because I could actually FINALLY play a game with another physical person…. on…the…same…sofa! I haven’t done this properly since the Left 4 Dead series, but being able to play an actual story-based game with someone in the same room was, without question, a must-buy for me.
A Way Out is a new co-op adventure from the director of the critically acclaimed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Josef Fares (Yes, the Fuck the Oscars guy, my hero!) It’s developed by Hazelight Studios and published by Electronic Arts under their EA Originals program, but to make it clear, EA do not profit at all from this game. All proceeds go to the studio, who also retain the IP and creative freedom. Right, now that we’ve cleared all that up, who’s ready to hear about the actual game now?
Where it all begins: You and your friend, granny, sister from another mister or whoever you want to play with start of in a stereotypical Shawshank type of prison where you take on the role of either Vincent or Leo. Now, both of these guys are quite different in personality and how they go about things so, it’s up to you which one you think you’d be more suited to as throughout the gameplay players will be presented with choices, go with Leo’s rough and tough ways or choose Vincent’s sensible and less daring path.
Your whole plan here is to break out of this concrete maze and the only way to do so is together…team work makes the dream work. You will work alongside each other in a split screen set up, sometimes the screen will be split vertically, sometimes horizontally; sometimes evenly, sometimes unevenly; and sometimes not at all. This framing device is mostly used in interesting ways, such as giving more screen space to whoever’s performing a more important action, or splitting the TV in three to also dedicate real estate to an attacking NPC.
I particularly enjoyed a certain scene where I had to hide my “breaking out” partner in a laundry trolley, throwing blankets on them so they couldn’t be seen by the guards and laughing at their anxiety at being seen while I wheeled the wobbly trolley unsurely past security or another scene where we had to smuggle a certain tool out from the woodwork area and the planning and strategies we came up with together to make this work.
The sheer volume of gameplay variety in A Way Out is honestly stunning, and a very pleasant surprise. Nearly every section feels unique to itself. It begins with intense Prison Break sequences that are played out via an adventure game and interacting with objects, and by the end it morphs into a full-on action game with plenty of shooting. There are a ton of surprises along the way that I won’t spoil, but Hazelight deserves the utmost credit for managing to make A Way Out feel like a top-notch game with their clever insight to mix in so many genres.
A Way Out isn’t an open world game, it’s quite linear and this is exactly why it worked well. It gives both players the freedom to talk with other characters and progress at their own pace most of the time, and the game does an admirable job of handling multiple conversations at once but with one small flaw that could irritate some players. Sometimes when you both have a conversation with another NPC at the same time, one conversation gets toned down and the other becomes that bit louder hence you won’t really hear what is being said to you. On the plus side, thank god for subtitles!
One, of many, pleasures I encountered through my gameplay were the plentiful mini-games you have access to. Some of these included spearing fish where each character takes turns between guiding the fish towards the other, while the spear holder waits until they get close and pushes the corresponding button to stab it. Fancy a 2 player game while playing a 2 player game? You’re in luck. Bring on Grenade Brothers, an arcade style nostalgic match of a “Pong” where Leo and Vincent control a basket-like icon that’s used to keep a “grenade” airborne and propel it to the other side. If the grenade lands on your side, your opponent gets a point.
There’s also baseball, basketball, connect 4, who can balance their wheelchair the longest in the middle of a busy hospital (adulting at its finest) or my personal favourite, playing musical instruments together. I loved this because not only is it a fantastically fun touch, but I found out my gaming partner isn’t very coordinated! How else would I have known this vital piece of information if it wasn’t for A Way Out?
A Way Out plays like how Uncharted 4 or Lost Legacy should have been played with its tag team dynamic and the close personal relationship between the characters. I loved both of these games immensely being a huge Naughty Dog fan, but I feel like an opportunity was missed that I didn’t even think about until I played A Way Out, and cleverly Hazelight Studios intuitively picked up on this.
Josef Fares comes from the film-making background and that really shows in A Way Out. The scenery is truly beautiful when you get to step outside the prison wall. It’s using the Unreal Engine 4 so it’s bound to look good, but that doesn’t mean its flawless. There were one or two times that the game stuttered slightly or froze for a few seconds. To be honest, this never spoiled one aspect of my gameplay at all, I never expected perfection. There’s a scene after you’ve escaped the prison, and you’re both standing in a vast wooded area over-looking the mountains and rivers where you just want to encapsulate that moment for as long as possible…it was so beautiful and excellently rendered. The facial expressions could definitely use a little lift though, even while happy or shocked, Leo and Vincent looked like they spent a little too long in the botox clinic.
Other than the calming trickle of the river you hear while, well, by the river and the relaxing birds while taking a stroll through the forest, the most music you will hear and enjoy is the one you make yourself, as mentioned previously. The soundtrack to A Way Out by indie electro soul band Caught a Ghost is very catchy and apt to the feel of the story, have a little listen right here.
While in gun battles, there’s everything you would want to hear, from close range blasts to far in the distance booms giving you a good sound ratio. The voice acting and dialogue between Leo and Vincent was always entertaining and fluid. I don’t believe voice actors get nearly enough credit when it comes to recognition in videogames, so huge congratulations to Leo (Fares Fares), Vincent (Eric Krogh), Linda (Andrea Deck), Carol (Jessica Calmhede), Emily (Julia Ragnarsson), Harvey (Roberto Davide), Alex (Claire Morgan), Ray (Andrew Lowery) and Jasmine (Alana Maria), these guys did a stellar job in making all the jigsaw pieces come together in this award worthy game.
What makes A Way Out extra special, not that it needed it, is that the replayablity factor is really high. You can start again and choose a different character to play, see how a situation would turn out differently when choosing another answer or go trophy hunting. Yes, as well as being able to reply it probably more than once, you also can unlock All 14 trophies & achievements, and can I just point out that these are really fun to complete…there’s no hard slog needed. This is beyond what you’d expect from a game that merely costs £24.99 ($35) on the PlayStation store. You can also play it with a different friend’s/family members and see what their reaction is and how they play giving you another chance at reliving the experience different each time, essentially adding more and more fun and interaction we all desperately need in the times we are facing.
A Way Out gave me more than I expected. It is much more than a great game; I truly believe it’s revolutionary in its approach to the gaming world of today. No, it’s not a new concept to play a video game in the same room with another human, but it was a dying one until Josef Fares took the much-needed chance to bring this “out of fashion” notion back to life. We live in a world where everything is done online, the closeness we feel to another person seems to be dwindling at an alarming speed, but A Way Out knits together the values of friendship, interaction and intimacy into an amazing quilt that covers humanity again. I really hope more game developers see how much this is needed in the gaming world and take the chance to bring players together, as Josef did, in a world where we are so divided. In other words, buy A way out and do your best to play it with another person in the same room as this is what I believe it was truly made for but either way, you won’t regret it and will give you some of the best memories in gaming for a long time to come. A way out deservingly receives a Gold Thumb Culture Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.