A Way Out Review
Filmmaker turned game developer Josef Fares made headlines at the 2017 Game Awards when after showcasing the first game from his newly minted development team, Hazelight Studios, he went on a tirade calling out Hollywood, the Oscars, and even his own publisher Electronic Arts. Some presumed he was drunk when making these statements, but he himself has clarified in later interviews that this was not the case and rather that he is just a passionate guy without a filter, a claim which definitely can be proven by reviewing some of the various quotes he has since given. And A Way Out is not only a testament of this apparent passion, but one of the most unique gaming experiences available.
Blurring the lines between cinematics and gameplay, A Way Out can be linked to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise in some aspects, though, its emphasis on storytelling and player choice, it also has a lot in common with the offerings from Telltale Games. The place that A Way Out stands out, though, is its dedication to cooperation. Over the years the game industry as a whole as moved by away from split-screen cooperative experiences, something that games like myself who grew up playing games this away have bemoaned. Josef Fares and Hazelight Studios, however, don’t just make a co-op an option in A Way Out, it’s a requirement; weather you’re playing together locally on the same couch or online from across stateliness, two players are a necessity and the screen will, for the most part, always be spilt so that you can keep track of what each other is doing. Josef Fares displays his skills as director with how he handles the framing of the camera, as the screens will change sizes depending on what’s going on while a third screen will also occasionally popup to display something relevant to both players.
In what can only be described as a risky move that threatens to alienate many, A Way Out’s focus on cooperation is actually what makes it an unforgettable experience. While it does feature a mixture of different gameplay elements, nothing in the way of its controls are anything special, although the game does do a good job of switching to keep things feeling fresh. For the mot part you will walk around as your respective character in true adventure game fashion talking to NPC’s, interacting with objects, and competing in the game’s various minigames, like Connect Four and darts (which are inconsequential in the long run but still a heck of a lot of fun to compete with your gaming partner to see who can get a better score). Though there are times where you will engage in shootouts with armed thugs, take part in a car chase, have to sneak past some guards, and there is even a brief side-scrolling beat ’em up segment. On top of all that, there are a few truly astonishing set piece moments, highlighted by the fact they involve two characters controlled by different individuals. But all in all, if A Way Out were able to be played solo like some have requested, the game just wouldn’t have enough meat on its bones.
A Way Out is really a game more about the road than the destination, because if you and you’re gaming partner aren’t people who have the patience to stop and smell the roses, or rather goof around like an idiot, you might find yourself speeding through the game and missing a lot of fun references (which includes a nod to Josef Fares’ team’s past work on Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and also to an iconic Nintendo franchise) and bonding moments. Like when ransacking an elderly couples home, you can focus on doing what needs to be done, which will have you finishing the mission in a few minutes, or you can explore and mess around with everything from the jar of cookies in the kitchen to the horses in the stable. Almost all of the NPC’s you meet don’t have anything vital to the plot to say and can be avoided altogether, but these conversations always lead to some fun, stupid dialogue that changes depending on which character you’re controlling.
Despite touting its narrative so heavily, A Way Out’s plot doesn’t have any surprises in store for those who are genre savvy. A lot of the characters are also static archetypes who seem only to exist to move the plot along. The exception to this rule, thankfully, are the game’s two protagonists; Vincent starts off as you’re typical everyman, while Leo (who is excellently portrayed by the director’s own brother Fares Fares) as an eccentric criminal who is not afraid to get physical yet is afraid of just about everything else – be it heights, needles, crocodiles, you name it. These two men soon becomes unlikely allies whom work together to escape prison and get revenge on the man who did them both wrong. Along the way, you get to see the relationship between these two men flourish and reveal things about them you didn’t expect. During the course of the journey, there are also several times where you’ll be given the option to handle things the Leo way, which usually involves brute force, or the Vincent way, where logical prevails over violence. You and you’re partner both need to agree on which path you’re going to take otherwise you’ll just be stuck starring at the screen unable to make any progress. Few of these choices matter in the long run, but they do lead to short, fun diverges in the story that make you and your partner’s experience with the game wholly unique.
There’s just something special about playing a game together with someone who is close to you that makes the entire experience that much more enjoyable, and A Way Out taps into this special something with remarkably fine tuning. The game isn’t lengthy by any means, but with an attractive $30 pricetag, it’s hard not to recommend A Way Out to anyone who has been looking for a cooperative gaming experience to share with a friend, relative, or significant other.