A Way Out has come out of nowhere, and has completely taken me by surprise. Games that contain on co-op experiences don’t exist anymore, and when they do, they are never given the love and attention that the single player or multiplayer counterpart gets. So, it was a pleasant surprise that a game developer who once used to be a filmmaker, decided to create a game that focuses purely on a co-op experience. Not only that, the developer has made some ground-breaking decisions that could potentially change the way we enjoy games that are designed for social experiences.
Before we go into that, let’s get into the premise of the game. This is a prison-break adventure set in the 70s. It is a highly cinematic experience that will keep you engaged throughout. There are slight moments during the middle of the story where things slow down, however it picks up towards the end in truly unexpected and eventful ways. As this is a co-op experience, this is a story about the trials and tribulations of two cell-mates who attempt to break free from prison. If I said anything more about the story, it wouldn’t do it justice, and would be unfair to anyone who wants to enjoy this experience.
Those who have seen Prison Break, the TV show, will be able to see some similarities between the two characters (Vincent and Leo), and the brothers in the TV show. Although there is no connection between the two franchises, A Way Out could have easily been branded under the Prison Break franchise. A lot of the cutscenes are predictable; we’ve seen them in movies and on TV. However, it still doesn’t make the game any less exciting. Instead, you are sometimes just under the impression that the next phase will be predictable. More often than not, there is a twist in the tale that keeps you hooked.
Much of the story told is about how the two cell-mates ended up in prison in the first place. Once that catches up to the present day, things get exciting as you figure out your escape plan. The story is quite linear; you will end up playing the way the developers intended you to play. Personally, I am a huge fan of this approach. Sometimes, I don’t want a sandbox adventure. Instead, I want to be able to just enjoy the game the exact way the developer had intended it. This system works in A Way Out. That doesn’t mean that you can’t roam about a little bit. There is always that level of freedom. However there will always be a clear objective, and in order for you to progress, you need to clear that objective.
The voice acting is superb. Leo and Vincent are portrayed as believable characters who have their own motivations for escaping prison. Their dialogues are interesting, and this makes the frequent cutscenes worth watching. In many of the cutscenes, you can still walk around, and the split-screen allows you to see each other. Both characters have very different personalities, which makes interacting with other characters even more interesting. Leo is a violent, fist-first character, whilst Vincent is a little more diplomatic and will only use force if necessary. They often argue and bicker amongst each other, and this is totally understandable given the circumstances. The development of their relationship is just as fascinating to watch as the prison break itself.
Whilst the co-op may not be as streamlined as what we’ve seen in games like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, it’s worth noting that A Way Out has been created by an indie developer that has been picked up by EA to publish it. Despite the countless mini-games that you have to take part in, A Way Out is a demonstration of how powerful a co-op experience can be. It is less stressful than playing a football game, yet it is just as social as playing a competitive shooter. Co-op games are the perfect balance that provide stress-free, social experiences.
Although a lot of A Way Out can be slow and cumbersome, there are explosive moments that will have you on the edge of your seat. In particular, certain escape sequences are so tense that your heart rate will definitely increase during those moments. For certain moments, you forget that you’re playing a game, and instead are fighting for your life as you try to escape. A lot of this is possible because of the ingenuity of the camera mechanic. Nothing is more disengaging than the camera angle constantly switching. There are moments in A Way Out where the camera shot is continuous for extended periods. No cutscenes, no loading bars, but instead just you and your partner on the run whilst being hunted. During many of these moments, the two characters need to frequently connect in order to overcome an obstacle, and any delay in decision-making could be the end. Imagine a Mirror’s Edge running spree, where it requires two free-runners to work together in order to maintain momentum. That is how A Way Out sometimes feels, and during those moments, the co-op experience provides more thrills than some of the biggest eSports titles.
I mentioned before that A Way Out is almost revolutionary. This isn’t because of the story or gameplay. Whilst those are also positive aspects, the two key innovations is that a) A Way Out forces you to play with someone else and b) it doesn’t force both players to own the game.
In most games with a campaign mode, if you can play co-operatively, 99% of the time it is optional. You are not forced to play with another human, and if you want to play it alone, you will just end up with an AI partner. A Way Out breaks this philosophy. Instead, you can only play the game with another human. It not only promotes social gaming, but enforces it. I want to see more game developers and publishers adopting this philosophy. Games are always better enjoyed when playing with other people that you can party chat with.
This however, raises the most obvious question. If you have to play with someone else, what if you cannot find someone else who can afford the game? The team behind the game have addressed this concern too, with its second revolutionary decision: only one person needs to own the game. No, this doesn’t mean that another player can play through some form of screen-sharing mode. Instead, the owner of the game can invite any friend to play. Upon accepting the invite, that secondary player will be sent to a screen that allows them to download a “friend’s trial” version of the game. This is the full game, with the only difference being that they cannot send their own invites – this is obviously to prevent a chain reaction of gamers sharing the game with everyone. Therefore, the entire campaign and co-op experience can be played by both players, as long as just one of them owns the game. This system is simply genius and deserves more praise than it is getting. I am a genuine believer that more games need to adopt this system, not only for co-op, but also for other games including AAA titles. As an example, imagine if, when the new Battlefield comes out, one person buys it and can send out an invite to a maximum of four friends, where they can enjoy the full game with that friend for a month. There needs to be a system in place where people can try the game and play it with friends.
A Way Out takes a leap in the right direction for social gaming for so many reasons. It is in fact an added bonus that the actual story and gameplay are also great. Considering all of the bad press EA gets for certain decisions that the company makes, EA also deserves huge praise for nailing the game-sharing service for A Way Out. The company will be making a massive statement if it were to introduce something similar for one of its own AAA titles (A Way Out is under the EA Originals umbrella). Although the campaign will only last about 6 hours, considering this is not the price of a full retail game, and two people can split the cost of the game as only one of them needs to buy it, A Way Out is worth adding to your list of games to play if you want a break from the stressful life of eSports or lone-wolf campaigns.