When the teaser trailer for a co-operative only jailbreak game was revealed online to gamers everywhere, the reactions were mixed. Some were excited by the prospect of having to make choices as to how to escape from prison. Some were understandably sceptical at the promises afforded by the trailer. One thing was certain though. More than anything else, this was billed as a co-operative experience for gamers. Whilst the dialogue and gameplay leave a little to be desired, it certainly is an experience, perhaps one best enjoyed playing with someone next to you.
Arriving on consoles and PC on 23rd March 2018, A Way Out was finally released after much anticipation and speculation as to whether or not the game could live up to the hype generated across social media and various media outlets. Developed by Hazelight Studios, a small team of developers in Sweden led by film director Josef Fares, A Way Out was released as part of the EA Originals Programme, a programme dedicated to smaller and more independent games. Despite the heavy focus on the solely co-operative way in which the game can be played, it was also billed as an emotional adventure, and there is one aspect in which the game doesn’t disappoint.
As a co-operative only game, you take control of one of two characters as you must navigate a daring prison break which quickly evolves into a deeply emotional story of revenge and betrayal. Players can either take control of Vincent, a freshly incarcerated man claiming to have been framed for his brother’s murder, or Leo, a hot-headed individual, six months into an eight-year sentence for grand theft. What draws the two closer together is their mutual hatred of another criminal on the outside, Harvey, who they both claim to have a grudge against.
“Where the game could be improved however, is the gameplay and dialogue. Both leave a little to be desired, with the emphasis throughout placed far more heavily on visuals and storytelling”
Despite Leo starting the game understandably wary of Vincent, the two quickly bond and become dependent upon the other to escape a maximum-security prison. Once the breakout is complete, they decide to stick together in their pursuit of Harvey, navigating their way through forests and building sites, rivers and hospitals; all in pursuit of revenge against Harvey. It certainly is a game best played alongside someone you know, where you can discuss your strategy, playing minigames and hunting Easter eggs along the way. It can become frustrating however, if you find yourself playing with someone online that you don’t know, and you must wait for them to catch up to you. Communication is key in this game, and it helps make the experience a more enjoyable one.
It becomes immediately clear that this game was directed by a film director, with the heavy emphasis on gorgeous visuals, making full use of the Unreal Engine and all of its power. Where this directorial style also makes itself known is the plot of the story. Taking on tropes from films across the generations, the player can sometimes find themselves questioning where they have seen this before. The prison break involves theft, working at night, and escaping in the rain; at times reminiscent of the 1994 classic, The Shawshank Redemption. Both men are seeking to go after Harvey to secure their families future; Leo to escape with his wife and young boy, Vincent to settle down with his wife and newborn child. Harvey is painted as a mob boss; secure in his Mexican villa, surrounded by armed guards, akin to Al Pacino’s Tony Montana in Scarface (1983). The game is rife with plot devices and tropes from cinema history, though it does well not to allow the predictability of said tropes to take away from the emotion of the story.
Where the game could be improved however, is the gameplay and dialogue. Both leave a little to be desired, with the emphasis throughout placed far more heavily on visuals and storytelling. As the game unfolds, it becomes apparent that the story is being told through a flashback whilst Leo and Vincent ride in the back of a cargo plane heading somewhere. These cutscenes feel slightly unnecessary, breaking up the gameplay without adding anything to the game. If anything, the dialogue here often gives away what may happen in the following act of the game.
“Where A Way Out truly shines is in its choice to make the game co-operative only. The game thrives in this way, and even in its more lacklustre moments, my friend and I found ourselves joking about it whilst we continued to play”
Whilst there is a certain level of predictability to most video games, as a player, I prefer to play through a story uninterrupted and discover what’s going to happen myself without a cutscene telling me there’s going to be a high-octane chase sequence coming up. Some of the dialogue feels a little clunky in places, where the sentences fail to be delivered in the right way, or the wording isn’t quite right. The game offers a variety of gameplay options, ranging from stealth and tail missions to car chases and shootouts. In some ways, it’s hard to put this game into a specific genre, other than what it was billed as; “emotional adventure”.
Where A Way Out truly shines is in its choice to make the game co-operative only. When playing through the game for the first time, I did so alongside my housemate on the couch just after the game’s midnight release. As the game went along, we found ourselves talking about the game’s choices and communicating more and more about how we would play out a certain situation. The game thrives in this way, and even in its more lacklustre moments, my friend and I found ourselves joking about it whilst we continued to play.
A Way Out isn’t a masterpiece in gaming, but it offers a memorable co-operative experience. Clunky controls and sloppy dialogue are overshadowed by gorgeous visuals, a deeply emotional story and a great co-op experience.