In keeping with A Way Out's theme of co-operation, this review has been written by Senior Staff Writer Stephen Tailby and Reviewer Alex Stinton, and sees them discussing their joint experience. What follows is their thoughts on the game, presented in a conversational manner. Enjoy.
Stephen: So, A Way Out, then. It's Josef Fares' follow-up to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and it expands on the idea of two characters working together by requiring two players in order to play. That's quite a bold direction for a game to take these days, and I think, for the most part, it works.
Alex: As far as a co-op experience goes it certainly tries to push things in a unique direction. I can't remember ever playing a story driven game that was so focussed on having players working together to drive the narrative. It was like our very own buddy movie.
Stephen: Yes, that's a good way of putting it. I think we both really enjoyed the split screen presentation; it shifted dynamically depending on the situation. So when a cutscene started, the split was phased out, and then seamlessly brought back in when control was back in our hands, and the split shifted appropriately if one character or the other needed more screen space.
Alex: I was really impressed by how well it worked to be honest. A lot of effort clearly went in to scripting the shifting of the splits, all the way down to changing the audio mix between each perspective to make sure that the most important action was always at forefront for both players. The shifting viewpoints also added even more intensity to the action sequences, with the hospital set piece standing out for me as something that wouldn't have been any where near as exhilarating if not for the nifty camera work. I only wish the gameplay was as polished.
Stephen: Indeed, the gameplay is, as you described it to me, a jack of all trades, master of none, which is absolutely true. The variety on offer in A Way Out is surprising, from its stealth mechanics and gun fights to exercising in the prison yard or driving a car, but it's all pretty rudimentary. It all feels fine to play, and the controls are always kept nicely straightforward, but it never feels great.
Alex: The simplicity of the gameplay is definitely in service of the story pacing, and while it would've been nice to not see quite as much button mashing going on, I think in order to keep Leo and Vincent moving through the story at a decent clip, it does the job. As a whole it would've suffered if you had to repeat any of the gameplay sequences too much, and while we still managed to fail on numerous occasions - our inability to take guards out stealthily must be second to none - the generous checkpoints, and relatively low difficulty means it was never frustrating. On a side note: I deny ever saying anything as cliché as "jack of all trades, master of none”. [You absolutely did - Ed]
Stephen: Let's touch on the story quickly, as it's very much a narrative driven game. It starts just as Vincent arrives at the prison to serve his sentence, while Leo has clearly already been there for some time. Fairly quickly the pair establish a common reason to escape -- a mutual enemy by the name of Harvey -- and they do so, leading to a tale of vengeance. It's entertaining enough, but throws a lot of clichés around, and we both had our suspicions about where the plot was heading long before the climactic end sequence.
Alex: I was really hoping for more from the story personally, and to see it take a road that'll be instantly familiar to anyone whose seen any number of buddy/prison movies was pretty disappointing. It just doesn't try to subvert your expectations at all, and instead goes to all the places you'll have predicted given the setup. It also has some big tonal shifts that I thought robbed the story of the emotional impact it was shooting for at times. It starts in a grounded, gritty place, but by the end you're deep into over-the-top action territory.
Stephen: There are also all the optional little interactive sequences which definitely eschew any tension. They made for some unintentionally hilarious moments, such as when I was carrying on with the task at hand -- fixing a truck -- while you played a few rounds of horseshoes. Despite this, I think it's fair to say that we both enjoyed our time with A Way Out. It might not win any awards for its writing, but the varied gameplay, the amount of things you can interact with, and the slick presentation all add up to an experience that's quite unique and, rightly or wrongly, we had a lot of laughs over the course of its six or seven hour story. The dedication to co-op play is really something, as well. The Friends Pass feature that allows you to play online with someone whether they have the game or not is a really smart idea.
Alex: I agree, it's not often you get to see a narrative title try to do something so unique, and forcing the split screen view, even if you're playing online, was a bold choice that could have gone wrong in so many ways. To be honest, I'm astounded that developer Hazelight Studios got as much right as they did, I just wish they'd managed to pull together a much more interesting story to sit at its core. At the end the day, though, we did have a fun time with Leo and Vincent, and while I probably wouldn't play it through again, A Way Out does deliver an enjoyable co-op experience that is unlike any other.
A Way Out is a successful experiment in co-operative play with some excellent presentation and varied gameplay. The story may be predictable, but you'll be surprised how attached you become to Leo and Vincent, and you'll be compelled to see their journey through to the end regardless. The ambition shines through in the end, and for anyone after a truly unique co-op game, you need look no further.