Story focused games are rarely seen with a good production budget. TellTale Games are the only one who appear to be heavily invested in the genre in the current generation. When EA revealed A Way Out from Hazelight Studios at their EA Play Conference last year, it easily ended up being one of the highlight for the conference. This was a new IP that promised split-screen coop with a focus on an interactive story adventure leading to a very unique experience, and just like others, it caught my interest as well.
Now that A Way Out is finally out, and I have finished it in co-op with a friend, it is sufficient to say that my expectations were indeed met by the game. Infact I feel they were also exceeded in many ways since I expected just a simple game focused on prison break and it turned out to be just a minor part of the main game. There is a lot more to do in A Way Out and the human element plays a major role with a focus on character development and storytelling to set it apart from other games.
When it comes to the story, it doesn’t really stand out as something special. It is your standard prison break turned into a revenge story that should be easy to figure out, and the plot twists are predictable if you have watched any of the numerous media on these type of stories – but despite that, the game still works very well because of its co-op concept and how it is all executed to tell a compelling tale of an unlikely friendship.
You will control one of the two main characters in the game: Leo and Vincent. Both of these end up in the same prison and to no one’s surprise, they wind up tagging together to escape the prison in order to get their revenge against the main antagonist, Harvey. Just talking about the plot might make it sound fairly generic but there is a lot more to the game than the story. I won’t really spoil the details here but you should be prepared to see plenty of twists, even if you find them predictable. What I really enjoyed was how the game took its time in establishing the characters of Vincent and Leo so even if you had never heard about them before, or knew their past, the game does such a great job in setting them up that you will end up forming an emotional bond with the characters once you reach the conclusion.
A Way Out relies on split-screen coop and its multiplayer design to basically show a tale being told from two different point of view. Playing it on the same screen with a friend is the best way to go through the game. There is no way to play the game in single player and it really shouldn’t work this way, because it is basically designed around the multiplayer. Getting it out of the way, it was easily one of the best co-op experience offered by any game this generation. It would be easy to dismiss the game for offering quick time events as a way to pass off action gameplay but there are actually some really clever segments that all come together in such a way that it will be hard to leave unimpressed.
A Way Out places a great emphasis on its multiplayer and renders two different point of view on the screen that are ultimately separate but work together in a way that has never been attempted by a developer, atleast to my knowledge. You along with another player will take control of each of the lead character and share story moments together while running around one of the many action set pieces or puzzle sequences. One such example is right in the start where both players will have to perform carefully timed button presses in order to climb together. Even story cutscenes can work separately for the two different camera views so you might trigger a cutscene and your partner could be doing something else entirely while the cutscene plays out. There are dialogue choices presented during some conversations that require the input from both players. The choices that you will make will ultimately reflect in the story but have no outcome on the ending.
The gameplay portion of A Way Out is extremely diverse. Each story scenario is carefully crafted around the gameplay. As you run from the prison, you will be driving a truck, shooting the chasing police from its back, hunting fish, and even go through a full action set piece that seems to be inspired from Uncharted 4. The last half of the game also turns into a complete third person action shooter even if the rest of the game is mostly focused on performing quick time events or gathering clues for the story. The thing that works best for the gameplay is that it never feels repetitive. I really liked one such escape sequence where my character had to go through a lengthy corridor in the same vein as the cult classic film Oldboy, and the inspiration to the film was pretty obvious as soon as the gameplay started. It was the only section in A Way Out where the game basically drops the split-screen in favor of giving a more focused chase sequence for the two lead characters so if you are playing coop, you and your partner will be taking turns during this gameplay segment. It is basically a long single shot sequence that cuts from one player to the next as they make their escape from police.
This brings me to the ending of the game. As I had time to reflect more on the end and how it was executed – while gameplay wise, it is one of the most unique ending that I have played, it also feels rather abrupt and doesn’t seem to reflect the tone for the rest of the game. Story is the one aspect that suffers the most with the ending and unfortunately there is not much that can be done here to improve it. I admire the ambitions of the developers here and I feel like they did a great job with what they had, but if the writing was there to support their goals, it could have worked a lot better in the end.
A Way Out Review (Xbox One)
Game Reviewed on: Xbox One
Game description: A Way Out is an upcoming action-adventure video game being developed by Hazelight and published by Electronic Arts under their EA Originals program. It is the second video game to be directed by Josef Fares after Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
A Way Out is a solid interactive adventure that never overstays its welcome. It is a little short on replay value and lacks content but if we consider the launch price, there is not much to complain here. If you enjoy co-op games, there is no better recommendation than A Way Out.