Before I get started here, if you have not played A Way Out, and you plan on playing it, I recommend going into the experience blind. I will not be posting spoilers here, but with game this short and a story so involved, it might be best for you to experience it all first-hand. Also, if you start it, make sure you play it through to the end. Now that that is out of the way…
Anyone remember that guy from the Game Awards who drunkenly told the Oscars to fuck off? Yeah, he made a game.
A Way Out is a unique game that requires you and another person to play cooperatively. There is no single-player mode, and no AI to take control of the other character. Just you and a friend (or a random online person if you have no friends). One of the more unique ideas of the game is the split-screen functionality of the game. It does not matter if you and the other person are in the same room or not, you have to play with what I am going to call a dynamic split-screen. At almost all times both players will be able to see what the other is doing. If something one of the characters is doing is more important, their portion of the screen becomes larger to emphasize this. The game does a lot of cool things with the split-screen mechanic that has never been done before in games.
The emphasis on cooperative is what leads me to one of the coolest things for a publisher like EA to do. If you have a friend that you want to play through the game with, but only one of you owns the game, the person who does not own it can download the free trial, and as long as the owner of the game invites them, they can play through the entire game together. The first 2/3 of the game this is how I played because my co-op partner did not own it. It is super easy to get into, and I want to stress how cool it is for EA to allow this to happen.
The story of A Way Out follows two convicts. Leo, a brash, tough, parrot nosed guy who has always seen trouble, and Vincent, a reserved, calm, banker put in jail on a murder charge. Throughout the entire game, you are reminded time and time again that these guys are opposites of each other. In some ways, this works, but in other cases (especially at the beginning) it feels like the game is trying to ram it down your throat that these guys are different.
Both Leo and Vincent hatch an idea to escape prison to track down and put an end to a man named Harvey. He’s a rich mob boss that has screwed both of them over, leading to them going to jail. The story starts off a little cliche, and at times can be uninteresting (which lead me to have to find a new partner to play with), but if you power through to the end it all pays off with a great, emotional ending to the game.
The prison escape sequence is over pretty much within the first third of the game. Interesting, considering the game is titled A Way Out, but the escape itself is pretty cool. There are numerous sections where both players need to communicate to each other and help each other to progress.
For example, when digging out of the jail cell, one has to scrape away at the wall while the other keeps watch for patrolling guards. Even though the whole game does have a cooperative feel to it, once you leave the prison, that emphasis on working together is not so strongly held down. It becomes much more about choosing which characters strengths fit the situation in how you want to do things.
Throughout the game, there are a few different scenarios where Vincent and Leo have different opinions on how to handle a situation. The game will not progress unless both players agree on a path to take. The first example is a bridge sequence where Leo wants to take a cop car and drive through the police patrolling while Vincent wants to climb under the bridge to get across.
My partner and I chose the under the bridge sequence, and this brought a really interesting element to the game. Leo is afraid of heights and is too scared to look anywhere but down. This lead to a section where while shimmying against a wall, I had to direct my partner on when to move or not because I was the only one that could look up at the guards searching the side of the bridge. Those kind of moments are what I wanted more of from this game because the rest of the game feels like it could be done solo or with an AI if it had set up that way.
One of my other complaints about the game is it tries to be so many different things. It tries to be a jack-of-all-trades, but only achieves in being a master-of-none. Some areas are done in moderation, and it is cool, for example in an escape sequence the game suddenly becomes a side-scrolling beat’em up, but other areas are drawn out too far and do not mesh well to the rest of the story, like becoming a shooter with poor controls.
Scattered throughout the game are mini-games for players to waste their time on. Some are decent, but for the most part, all these are good for are being time wasters. There are some cool mini-games like baseball and an arcade cabinet, but then there are lackluster events like woodworking that feel like a waste of time for the developers to even put into the game. All of the mini-games have a clunky, awkward feel to them.
The gameplay of A Way Out is super simple. Most high action areas task you with QTE’s, or you have to keep mashing the “X” button to progress. It expands a little as you progress, but nothing out of the ordinary or interesting.
I played A Way Out on my Xbox One X, and unfortunately, I have to report there were a few glitchy/buggy areas of the game. I had a moment in the prison escape where a cop would not move from an area he was supposed to so I walked out expecting to have to reload the sequence, and he never saw me standing three feet in front of him. We had another area in a canoe where we got turned around and could no longer steer because we had no view of where we were going, completely breaking the game (although I found it hilarious). There were a few other issues, but the game is not a completely broken mess.
Overall, A Way Out is a great cooperative game to play with a friend with a story that takes a bit to get into, but ultimately pays off in the end. The shining part of this game is the cinematic sections of the story. There are times that it feels like you are playing a movie. The camera work is on par with what I would expect to see if I were to take a trip to the theaters and see an action movie. The $30 price tag is completely fair in my book seeing how you can bring a friend into it without having to buy a second copy and depending on how much time you waste in the mini-games, it probably lasts about somewhere between 7-8 hours.