Thus reads a preface underneath the “Games” section of Hazelight Studios’ official website. A Way Out opens a door for the industry’s narrative potency. Games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice tell engaging stories. Games like Nier: Automata utilize the medium’s interactivity to tell a story not possible elsewhere, even in truncated form. With all that said, no story in the past five years feels as purposely built for co-op as A Way Out.
A Way Out stars Vincent Moretti and Leo Caruso. Vincent is a well-educated and reserved father-to-be with a borderline dysfunctional relationship due to his line of work. Leo is short-tempered and violent, turning to a life of crime after meeting his wife in an orphanage at the age of 12. They share a Bonnie and Clyde-like relationship, remaining faithful no matter the circumstances. As opposites with similar goals, the duo exchange genuinely funny and natural dialogue through the roughly six hour adventure. The plot is framed in media res, with Leo and Vincent’s conversations on a helicopter post break-out sprinkled in between a linear series of flashbacks. A decent chunk of flashbacks involve the gradual build-up from Vincent’s arrival at prison to Leo and Vincent’s collaborative escape.
Collaboration seems to be the key design doctrine governing nearly every scene. By now, you’ve likely seen gameplay and trailers that show split-screen action. This holds true not just for local co-op, but also online play. A Way Out runs with this concept, consistently pitting players in varied situations. While Leo might be talking to his son in a cinematic on one half of the screen, Vincent is outside playing darts. While Vincent has a personal moment with his emotionally detached wife after delivering, Leo might be playing with cards or talking to NPC’s in the Maternity Ward’s waiting room. Conversely, paths regularly converge with several opportunities for both players to engage in distractions together. Leo and Vincent might play connect four or a modified Pong style arcade game on a single full screen.
Screens seamlessly grow and shrink and sound design is constantly shifting depending on the gravity of each player’s actions. In the scene with Leo talking to his son, Leo’s side of the screen overshadows Vincent’s while sound propagation plays more heavily through his soundscape, subduing the sounds of Vincent’s time-wasting interactions. The ever-shifting camera work and sound design never grows stale, keeping both players distracted while at times, one screen is so engaging that players may forget they have control on their end.
A Way Out is THE game for best friends and couples. Its deliberate design relies on players building bonds through mechanical interactions while simultaneously witnessing the emotional bond between Vincent and Leo. In select moments, Vincent and Leo propose different approaches to a situation, forcing both involved parties to agree on the plan of action. These scenarios have the potential to elicit fierce debate depending on who you play with. The early prison sections contain nail-bitingly tense moments that require keen perception and team work. While the prison and subsequent escape provide some of the strongest collaborative moments, A Way Out delivers enough interesting scenarios throughout, with strong pacing. It never lingers on an event for too long. That is, at least, until a chase sequence near the end of the game.
Because of A Way Out‘s design, mechanics are routinely thrown in and abandoned while others show up more than once, but remain underdeveloped. Shooting feels fine enough for a game that has maybe half an hour total of it, but driving is too stiff for comfort. Of the two major vehicular chase sequences, the latter chase on motorcycles controls so poorly that it entirely shatters the illusion of the chase. It was a funny mess of awkward animations and collisions. It is also the only section that feels like it drags on longer than it needs to.
Aside from shooting and driving, A Way Out‘s mechanics are situational. Most fist fights are just quick time events, while any environmental interaction is also relegated to button prompts. They work fine, though the few rhythmic quick time events that require pressing a button along a meter feel off. The game lacks proper feedback during these sections, making you question whether you pressed the button with the right timing until the proceeding animation plays out. Fortunately, they are only required twice in the main story with some side mini-games offering additional practice for this borderline broken rhythmic QTE implementation.
The storytelling and writing isn’t on the same level as the industry’s best. It isn’t competing with Naughty Dog’s recent games, but its fully integrated co-op design makes the most insignificant of tasks feel like a monumental journey. This variety and inventiveness makes it easy for players to connect with the characters they’re playing as, leading to a personal journey for each player.
That journey is the beating heart of A Way Out. Even when mechanics aren’t the most fleshed out; Even when the solution to a problem is simple; Even when the motorcycle chase rears its ugly ass, none of it detracts from the character driven journey. A Way Out makes you reflect. It makes you feel. Let Hazelight Studios take you on this adventure. By journey’s end, you may find a deeper connection with your partner in crime.