Proper co-op games are few and far between these days. Not the sort that sees players grouping up to tackle hordes of zombies like in Call of Duty, or getting together to bring down drug lords in an open-world environment such as Ghost Recon Wildlands. I mean the purest form of co-operative gaming; where there’s an absolute reliance on your partner and anything but that will probably result in failure. The developers at Hazelight – most of whom worked on the development of brilliant indie hit Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – saw the gap in the market and wanted to bring out an immersive, story-driven co-op game to fill it. Can A Way Out be the innovative experience to reinvigorate the co-op side of gaming, or will it drive the masses back to the lonely life of a single player?
A Way Out is a cinematic, co-op adventure to be played by two players in either a local setting like the couch, or online. First of all, the ‘friends pass’ needs a mention, because this opens the game up to a much larger audience. As long as you own a copy of the game, anyone who wants to play it with you can do so at no extra cost – it’s perfect for those with tight mates. There are no limits as to how many different people you can share the experience with online, should the couch play not be of any use, which I believe to be a cracking idea and one that I took advantage of.
The narrative of A Way Out sees two inmates – Vincent and Leo – who just so happen to share a similar goal of wanting to break out of prison in order to seek vengeance upon a common enemy. Whilst the story ticks along nicely, it seldom reaches the heights I expected and despite growing to like the characters, it took too long to get to that point. Without spoiling too much, it actually finishes incredibly strongly and completely throws a curveball your way. The final hour or so is tremendous.
As for the gameplay, and each player controls one of the two main protagonists: Leo, the incredibly brash, cocky, violent type, and Vincent, the more mild-mannered, calm and collected one. Upon entering the prison, it becomes clear that the split-screen visuals allow both players’ actions to be seen throughout – except for the odd moment.
Initially it’s a case of working together to break out, which entails acquiring certain tools from under the watchful eyes of the guards, before utilising them to escape from the cell in the dead of night. That last part in particular sees one player perusing the walkway outside to keep an eye out for patrolling guards, whilst the other cracks on with the demolition job of making of hole in the wall. The intensity as you’re unscrewing panels or manoeuvring the toilet out of place is immense, especially when your partner gives you the go ahead for longer, with a guard turning up mere seconds later. This is the first time the teamwork aspect feels utterly crucial; you’ll find out the hard way that any lapse in communication will almost definitely end in failure… and I love how well that’s done.
What’s also great is that it doesn’t feel as if there’s any filler, with very little backtracking or repetition involved. Should you need to halt breakout progress in order to grab a tool, then once picked up you will be whisked to the relevant point again in a flash. Set piece after set piece is the best way to describe the goings on, but that doesn’t mean explosions every minute, for often the most enjoyable ones are the simplest and rawest moments. Whether that’s climbing back-to-back with your partner up a ventilation shaft where button timing is vital, or strategically fishing together with sticks – spoiler alert, they aren’t in prison forever – the sheer joy garnered from the successful co-operation is great. No section ever feels the same either, with the stealth and action always providing something different. And should there be two slightly similar moments, the game ensures that the characters switch roles e.g. one drives while the other shoots and vice versa.
Speaking of driving, and although the game mechanic is more akin to that found in GTA than Forza, the chase sequences that ensue are brilliant fun – thanks mostly to the combination of the high octane driving, the adrenaline rush and the bickering to keep the damn vehicle still enough to shoot. There’s another chase on foot which just blew both me and my partner away with the ingenuity of how it played out, as well as the extraordinary camera angles used to capture the action.
A Way Out isn’t all rosy though, with the straight up shooting experiences exposing a couple of terrible flaws. Firstly, the shooting doesn’t feel great, no matter what gun; it’s as basic as I’ve seen in a long while. And then there’s the A.I., the dumb A.I. moving about out of cover for no reason other than to be shot. The most ridiculous part sees a guy fire about a thousand bullets, missing with every single one. This is no ordinary bloke though – he’s meant to be a darn hitman! Presumably he was a Stormtrooper in a former life.
Aside from the action, there are times where you can just take in the surroundings and chat to NPCs, the latter of which reap different results depending on who’s doing the talking. At certain junctures, choices are presented to the both of you, whereby a joint decision must be made to do it Leo’s way or Vincent’s way. This adds a layer of replayability to proceedings, to see how situations can play out differently.
It’s hard to imagine that there’d be downtime amid a prison escape and the subsequent consequences, but the pace does slow down occasionally. There’s almost a lack of urgency, which is a bit strange, as you get the opportunity to have a bash at one of the various mini-games. Playing the piano in a rhythmic challenge, whacking a baseball as far as you can and an awkward section of shooting hoops on an outdoor basketball court are just a few of the many featured. They’re nearly all good fun for a few minutes at a time and then it’s back on the run.
Whilst on the run you’ll notice the lovely environments that have been created, especially as you gaze into the distance at the wilderness beyond – it’s not AC Origins quality by any means, but is still very good. Even the view atop a construction site is pretty decent, despite the fear inducing height. The aesthetics are all very well tied into the era too, with designs suited to the 1970’s setting and little nuggets of information alluding to the period these guys are in.
In regards the main characters, the voiceovers are more than acceptable and the dialogue often fits with their personalities to help add realism. The development of the protagonists is a tad too slow for my liking, however the payoff is well worth the wait as I had really bonded with my mildly psychotic Leo by the final act. Outside of these two, there’s very little attention given to anyone else – this is their story, and yours.
Overall, A Way Out is one of the finest co-op games I’ve had the pleasure of playing and the teamwork ethic is so strong that it makes for a gaming experience to remember. Throughout the eight or so hours it took to complete the story, my partner and I laughed at our failed attempts at working in unison, we were overjoyed at the sheer variety within the chapters and most of all, it hit us right in the feels when we least expected it. No game is perfect though and the story has a few too many weak points which cause a little concern. The pure stupid A.I. doesn’t help matters in the shooting segments either and this takes away some of the shine.
Nevertheless, I implore you to find a friend who owns it or to buy it yourself and share the experience with someone else. Honestly, don’t miss A Way Out, for it’s the purest form of co-op out there and a truly innovative game.