You’d be forgiven for thinking that the gaming market at the moment is full of nothing but sequels, remakes and copycats, but every once in a while, something comes along that stands out from the crowd and gives you an experience that’s unlike any other. The explosive rise of boutique indie development studios has produced masterpieces such as Journey, Inside, Oxenfree and Stardew Valley, all of which have elevated the medium into something incredible, giving us games that will live on in the hearts of fans for years to come. In a time where the term ‘multiplayer’ is becoming synonymous with massive online death matches, Sweden-based developers Hazelight Studios have looked back toward the foundation of gaming to give us a more intimate and co-operative affair, the captivating and turbulent tale of two escaped convicts, A Way Out.
Right from the beginning, A Way Out presents a distinctly cinematic and engaging narrative that feels like an amalgamation of every prison-break and buddy movie from the last 50 years. You and a friend each take control of either Vincent or Leo, two men facing lengthy jail sentences who discover that they share a common enemy and a common goal. As you simultaneously guide each character through daily prison life, they start to form a friendship and ultimately a strategy to break out of the big house. From there you work in tandem, supporting each other to gather the necessary items needed to escape and distract the guards while you put your plan into action. After the nail-biting breakout, your journey with Vincent and Leo is only just beginning as you embark on an epic tale of redemption and revenge, guiding the pair through periods of intense action and the occasional brief moment of calm.
Cell Block Boogie
Playing through A Way Out feels like a whirlwind adventure in 1960s America, filled with homages to classic action films and punctuated with tonnes of slower scenes that give breathing room to some of the heavier themes within the game. Vincent and Leo each have distinct personalities that define their character and you often have the choice of following their unique approach to intense situations. For instance, upon being questioned by a suspicious hospital security guard, Vincent favours a calmer solution, trying to talk his way out, while Leo wants to attack the guard, aggressively shutting the whole thing down. These divergent points don’t really have much of an impact on the direction of the story, but they do lend an authenticity to the characters and enhance the sense of immersion with our two anti-heroes.
In a bold move, Hazelight Studios constructed the game so it that can only be played in two-player co-operative mode, whether locally or with a friend online. While this may seem like a frustrating or limiting factor, playing through the extraordinary story with a close friend feels incredible and the inclusion of the “Friend Pass” system means that it will be easier to convince a pal to set aside six or seven hours to play with you. With the “Friend Pass” only one person needs to purchase the game, and can then share it for free with an online companion.
WellPlayed contributor Kieron and I decided to play it in couch co-op mode (locally) and I can honestly say that it was one of the most amazing shared gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Working together to overcome all of the challenges the game threw at us was awesome and led to some hilarious moments of confusion and excitement. Getting through an intense action sequence together felt like an achievement and then spending the next half an hour competing in silly mini-games during a quiet moment reminded me of playing games as a kid, fostering that sense of common enjoyment that can sometimes feel absent in contemporary multiplayer games. There was one exhilarating part where we each had to mash the square button in a simple arm wrestle, neither one of us relenting for literally five minutes until we collapsed in a fit of laughter, massaging our forearms and talking about how insane this game was.
Being on the run is serious business
From a gameplay standpoint, A Way Out is a bit of a mixed barrel, combining mechanics from a whole range of different genres. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say it was a bit like a slower paced Uncharted game, with scripted, interactive cinematic set pieces filled with running, sneaking, climbing, vaulting, driving and of course, shooting. However, as I mentioned before, there are parts of the game that are a bit more relaxed, feeling more like something from a Telltale title such as The Walking Dead. You can wander around, speak with NPCs (that have different dialogue depending on which character speaks to them) and engage in mini-games like darts, playing music, Connect Four, baseball or even a good, old-fashioned game of horseshoes. The multiple kinds of mechanics are varied enough that the game never feels boring, but solid enough that they don’t feel gimmicky or out of place. It felt completely natural to go from sneaking through bushes to a high-octane car chase/shootout.
What sets the gameplay of A Way Out apart is that the entire experience is shared, with times where one character will be in control of a car while the other holds back police with a shotgun, or one is in a cutscene, and the other can go about their business, appearing in the background if they’re close. This means that although you are playing through the individual arc of your chosen character, you are doing so in a shared environment, enhancing your investment in the narrative and your companion’s journey in a way that I haven’t seen done since Army of Two.
Just two men with darts in their hands
Towards the end, A Way Out does start to rely heavily on cover-based shooting, which unfortunately is probably one of the game’s weakest points. Although they are mostly simple and quite forgiving sequences, I feel that the developers could have paid just a bit more attention to the shooting mechanics, which would have made the final acts much more enjoyable. There are also some parts of the dialogue and interaction between the protagonists that seem really wooden and poorly written, but these are thankfully few and far between.
A Way Out was truly a game unlike any others I’d played before. It gave a close friend and me a chance to bond over an awesome, exciting shared experience and for that it will always have a place in my heart. From its cinematic action sequences to its quiet, contemplative moments and of course, the thrilling finale, Kieron and I were captivated the entire way through. If you’ve got a friend that you know would have your back if you broke out of prison, I highly recommend picking this up and spending a few hours together on the couch with it. If all your friends live far away, jump online and share the Friend Pass with them, I guarantee that it’ll bring you closer together.
Reviewed on PS4