Over the last decade or so, games have tried to mimic aspects of some a high budget movie with high octane action, intense drama, cinematic camera angles, and so on. Some have succeeded at this with Telltale, Naughty Dog and Rockstar leading the charge with these epic film-like stories, some have failed.
The strange thing is, games are their own unique medium and while titles like Grand Theft Auto, Uncharted, and The Last of Us are some of the best out there, they’re making a strong effort to emulate something else entirely. They’re not exactly telling stories that can’t be portrayed on the silver screen, sure you have the added element of being able to play it but the stories at their core are something you’d see during the summer blockbuster season.
With that said, former filmmaker Josef Fares is looking to break the mold with his new co-op action/adventure game, A Way Out. The game is a co-op exclusive game, meaning there’s zero single player. This is a story that can only be experienced with two players. The story follows two convicts, Vincent and Leo, who team up to escape the prison they’re rotting away in and kill the man who was responsible for them being locked up.
The men are pretty much polar opposites, Vincent is a reserved, logical man who claims he’s been set-up and he’s actually innocent. On the other side of the coin, Leo is a violent criminal with a short fuse who has been put away for his involvement in a murder and robbery of a high valued jewel. The two things they both have in common is that they want revenge on Harvey, a notorious crime lord who has caused headaches for our two “heroes”, and they’re family men.
A familiar story driven by its characters and unique presentation
The family connection is more or less the emotional core of this story, while it can at times be pretty cliche, there are moments that sting and depending on how fragile you are, could cause you to shed a tear or two. The two build a brotherly bond throughout the game with touching one on one conversations, performing optional side activities like playing an arcade game or playing some instruments they found in the house they’re hiding out in, and of course, the intense action sequences where they rely on each other to stay alive.
The story in A Way Out itself is pretty cookie cutter, you won’t find anything really new or surprising here except maybe the last 30 minutes of the game. The thing that keeps this game from running out of steam is the characters, they drive the story forward with their charisma and great acting. There’s rarely a dull moment between the two, the game focuses on building intimate character moments with lots of breathing room between action scenes. If you’re going in expecting a moment to moment third-person shooter, you may walk away disappointed because most of the shooting doesn’t happen until the last hour of the game. It’s instead filled with just letting the characters interact, building their arcs, and it all comes together really well once the credits finally roll.
Another way that A Way Out manages to help keep your attention glued to the screen is through its presentation. With the co-op experience, you’re almost always able to see both perspectives through a split-screen set-up. Half the screen is what one person is doing, the other half is what the other person is doing. Sometimes it’ll fill the whole screen with just one person during key moments where the other person isn’t doing anything but about 90% of the game is just split-screen and while I initially expected this to be really distracting, it works really well.
Since A Way Out often has you and your partner doing different tasks, it allows you to see what they’re doing, possibly allowing you to help them if you need to. They see what you normally wouldn’t be able to so you won’t feel the need to go replay some sections because you want to get the other end of the experience! On top of that, the game plays with the perspective in really fun ways.
During a specific chase sequence in a hospital, you’re only viewing one character at a time but it cuts back to the other player after you hit key beats in the scripted section. Josef Fares shows off his inner filmmaker and creates these really cool transitions between each swap, almost like the whole sequence was filmed as one long take. In other games, they could’ve totally botched it but with A Way Out it feels like they totally understood the element of keeping the action flowing and tried as much as they could to keep you as engaged as they possibly could.
Gameplay that can both benefit or crumble from its simplicity
Where the game may begin to fall short for some is the gameplay, as noted earlier, this isn’t much of a shooter. It has lots of action but it’s more big brawls and chases rather than gripping shootouts, the game still has really fantastic set pieces that stick out in my head such as the hospital chase, a pursuit through a construction site, and more. A lot of it revolves around pretty basic quick time events so mechanically, it’s a bit dull but it may be for the better.
I played A Way Out with my girlfriend who has never beaten a game in her life, while she still struggled a bit it was really easy for her to help me plow through the game. It’s really accessible so you can get just about anyone to play with you, you don’t need to find someone who’s a really good shooter player, it works with just about anyone including video game novices. The game is meant to be played with someone you have a strong connection with hence why there’s no matchmaking so it’s fairly essential that it can be played by anyone who at least has basic motor functions.
It is also super easy to get distracted in A Way Out. Almost anything you try to interact with can be used whether it be a banjo, a piano, a baseball bat, a basketball, a portapotty, an arcade machine, etc. It helps build those intimate moments between your characters, it lets them have a moment to stop the wild goose chase they’re on and gives them a chance to breathe and say what’s on their mind. For those who like to look down every corner for unique optional activities, you won’t be disappointed here, you may end up feeling overwhelmed and have your partner nagging you to move on!
One thing A Way Out falls short on is narrative choices. You’ll be presented with these branching paths that allow you to perform a certain objective in different ways or in some instants maybe change the story but none of them feel significant enough, it all feels like you’re going to the exact same destination on a road that’s just a slight detour from the fastest way of getting there. It’s somewhat of a pointless addition that doesn’t have much weight in the long run.
Outside of that, A Way Out truly excels at being a really unique video game experience. It tells a familiar cinematic story in a way no other medium can thanks to its brilliant execution. Some may find elements of the game lacking due to it being a bit simple but it can also be seen as a positive due to the fact that it allows more people to play the game. It could alienate some hardcore gamers but if you’re looking for a good co-op experience, A Way Out is one of the best of its kind.