A Way Out director Josef Fares doesn’t appear to be a man who is encumbered by restraint. During his now-infamous speech during The Game Awards, Fares flipped the bird at the camera before pronouncing: “Fuck the Oscars!” It’s unlikely that the Oscars even knew that the Game Awards were taking place that night, but Fares felt it in his heart so he said it. It is this spirit that I imagine led to Fares unabashedly throwing himself into every facet of A Way Out, from writing its script through to casting his older brother as one of its two lead protagonists, and while it’s certainly a flawed game, it’s also one imbued with a sense of playfulness that’s often missing from major studio games. Unfortunately, like major studio games, it is also dripping in quick-time events.
Fares and his team at Hazelight set out to create a game that would toy with our expectations of what co-op games should be. Far too often, co-op games don’t actually require much co-operation; you’re both striving to reach the same goal, sure, but the path to that goal is a case of attacking the same enemies and then continuing on your journey. Communication is beneficial in these games, though rarely is it vital, and Hazelight wanted to change that approach.
Hazelight couldn’t have picked a better concept to spotlight player communication. A Way Out places players in the shoes of two convicts attempting a joint prison break, working side-by-side in order to acquire the equipment needed for them to escape. Leo and Vincent must operate in tandem in order to escape, helping their partner clamber onto a ledge or distracting a guard while they steal something from an office, with each chapter offering its own unique set of challenges. There’s rarely a limit to which player can perform each task, too, meaning that it’s often up to you and your co-op buddy to decide who will take the lead in a certain situation.
A Way Out Review: A Tale of Two Convicts
Though the game can be played both locally and online, your display will be permanently rendered in split-screen, allowing you to see your partner’s point-of-view as well as your own. If they’re involved in a cutscene, black borders will line their side of the screen while you continue on unimpeded. There’s no stopping and starting between story beats, with each chapter unfolding in real-time. It’s a fluid system, and particularly in the earlier stages before Leo and Vincent have formed their bond, I was pleasantly surprised to see how both characters could progress at different paces without it awkwardly impacting the flow of the story.
In the menu screen, players are asked to decide upon playing as either Leo or Vincent, though in reality there isn’t much difference between the two. They’ll occasionally have their own paths to take, but most of the time they’ll be side-by-side, carrying out tasks together. Considering that Hazelight’s last game was Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, an emotive and story-driven journey, I was expecting something similar from A Way Out, though that’s not really the case. There isn’t much time for character development between Leo and Vincent, with players given a brief overview of their past crimes and personality in the pre-game menu. They verbally interact frequently throughout the game, though neither has a particularly compelling arc and the motivation behind their escape — to go out and kill the guy responsible for double-crossing both of them — doesn’t make for much of an engrossing story.
A Way Out Review: Foolin’ Around
I was also taken aback by how quickly Leo and Vincent escape the prison, and how easy it is for them to do so. There were no real stumbling blocks that impeded our progression, with the convicts managing to exit the prison with nary an issue. Many of A Way Out‘s most action-packed sequences are confined to simple quick-time events, and while my co-op partner and I failed a few times as a result of absent-mindedness, we experienced no real struggle at any point. I can understand Hazelight opting to make A Way Out as accessible as possible, given that most households probably aren’t going to have two people who are overly familiar with video games, though the puzzles are incredibly basic, too. This makes some sections of the game almost feel like being on a guided tour with how straightforward they are.
A Way Out is at its best when it’s conjuring up inventive things for you and your co-op buddy to do. Though elaborating any further would spoil it, there are a few action scenes where co-operation is much more than just pressing square at the right time, while a few mini-games dotted throughout its chapters also provide fun distractions. When A Way Out deviates from its quick-time events it’s a great deal of fun, and even small activities such as cajoling fish towards your buddy’s makeshift wooden spear can be hilarious. I wish that Hazelight had filled the game with more of these and fewer QTEs, though what’s there certainly makes for a unique co-op experience.
A Way Out Review: Conclusion
A Way Out may not be the perfect local multiplayer game, and though Hazelight made the excellent decision to allow two online players to play the game using only one copy, it lacked the replayability required to inspire me to complete it with another friend after I’d finished my first playthrough. It’s easy enough that you can sit on your couch and play it alongside just about anybody, and there’s plenty of room for fooling around, but ultimately it didn’t do as much with its unique concept as I would have liked.