A Way Out review
As more and more games proudly sell themselves on their ‘cinematic’ qualities, there’s one area where big-budget games have almost always lagged behind their Hollywood counterparts: writing quality. So it is with A Way Out, a cooperative narrative adventure that shines almost everywhere apart from the narrative.
A Way Out: Price and availability
A Way Out is out now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, after a release on 23 March 2018. The good news is that it’s a lot cheaper than your average game, at just £24.99/$29.99.
You can grab a physical copy from Amazon, Zavvi, or Game (in the UK) or Amazon, GameStop, or Walmart (in the US). Or anyone can grab a digital copy from the PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, or Origin.
The price is even friendlier when you consider the fact that even though it’s exclusively playable in co-op, only one of you needs to buy a copy - even if you play online together (the other just has to download the free trial). Both players will need either PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold if you’re playing online on console however, and there’s no cross-platform play.
A Way Out review
A Way Out is the debut game from Hazelight Studios, but a good chunk of that team - including director Josef Fares - previously worked together on Brothers: A Tale of Two Suns, a smart single-player game that emulated co-op by requiring the player to control two brothers (in case you couldn’t guess from the title).
Now Fares and Hazelight are going for the real thing in A Way Out, a rare game which can only be played cooperatively by two players, either locally or online, with a dynamic split-screen setup that keeps both characters on screen.
You take control of Vincent and Leo, two inmates in ‘70s America who hatch a plan to escape lockup and go out for revenge against the man responsible for putting them both away.
In terms of gameplay, A Way Out is a sort of fusion of walking sim, point-and-click, and Uncharted, owing a clear debt to the likes of Heavy Rain. You’ll spend much of the time walking around environments trying to find the right objects or interactions to achieve something or other - get into a locked room, distract a guard, steal an item, that sort of thing.
Every now and then a big set piece will kick off though, throwing you into a series of quick-time events, say to navigate a tricky river crossing or win a fistfight.
Less successful are the game’s attempts to give players more direct control in action sequences, from racing and gun fights to more niche pursuits like white water rafting. Clunky controls almost always mar these experiences, leaving them either too easy or frustratingly challenging - but either way you’re more often fighting the controls than any in-game enemies.
Still, when the game is in it’s puzzle-solving, quick-time-y mode it works well, and it’s striking how much co-op elevates this simple gameplay format. Even something as simple as trying to coordinate button presses to climb a narrow shaft feels more novel than it perhaps should.
That’s improved further by A Way Out’s dynamic split-screen, which re-sizes the screen on the go to give more space to the biggest moments. It even drops split-screen entirely whenever it’s not needed, best exemplified by an early fistfight which sees the ‘camera’ swing around the participants, focusing on each protagonist in turn when it’s their time to fight.
A Way Out is then, for the most part, a lot of fun to play. But for a game like this, that’s just not enough. Narrative games live and die by their writing, and A Way Out’s just isn’t up to scratch.
Vincent and Leo are likeable enough as a double act, drawn by their differences as much as their similarities. It’s simple stuff - Vincent is the cautious white-collar criminal, Leo the hot-headed working class thug - but their are flashes of genuine warmth between the pair, and some of the personal relationships outside their core pairing are nicely sketched.
Sadly the bulk of the dialogue sits somewhere between hammy and tired, and the voice acting is sadly stilted. The game works its way through every ‘70s prison and crime caper cliché it can muster, and it sounds like the cast knows it.
It doesn’t help that for all it borrows from Heavy Rain and the Telltale games, A Way Out skips one vital feature: narrative interactivity. There are occasional moments when you get a choice between two approaches to a situation, but they pretty much just boil down to ‘sneaky’ or ‘not sneaky’, and either way they loop back together - nothing really has a fundamental effect on the shape of the narrative in the long run.
The game also has a frustrating tendency to use cutscenes for what could easily have been playable sections - one of many hints that Fares would probably rather have been directing a film - occasionally even playing out three or four cutscenes in a row with no player interaction at all.
More than anything else, it just all feels like such a shame. When it works, A Way Out is tremendous fun. It doesn’t quite feel like anything else on the market, and there’s a sense of overwhelming potential here. It just remains frustratingly unrealised.
SHOULD I BUY A WAY OUT?
A Way Out falls short of what it could - and should - be, but there are flickers of brilliance. And with the best part of ten hours of gameplay for two people, for half the price of an average game, it’s definitely worth giving it a go over the weekend - just lower your expectations a little.