With the advent of online gaming, the concept of “couch co-op” has become rather antiquated. While the ability to play games with your friends from anywhere in the word is definitely a fantastic innovation, there is something to be said for the feeling of having your friend there next to you physically where you can celebrate your triumphs and tribulations together. In Josef Fares’ newest game A Way Out, cooperative gameplay is taken to a new level, and it just might garner enough interest for more games of its ilk to make a comeback.
A Way Out follows two incarcerated protagonists: Vincent Moretti, a banker who has recently jailed for the murder of his brother, and Leo Caurso, a thief who has already been in jail for several months. Their paths end up crossing when Vincent intervenes in a jail yard fight that Leo is involved in and afterwards they discover they have a foe in common on the outside. The rest of the game deals with the two men’s attempt to escape the prison with each of them being controlled in real time by the players.
The entire game is presented in split-screen, making it feel like a Brian De Palma film, especially with the crime-thriller atmosphere it employs. Each player is free to do whatever they wish—they can talk to NPCs, explore the environment, and even play mini-games. Eventually, the players will have to tackle tasks that require full cooperation, and this is where the gameplay really shines. These events are incredibly varied and encompass all kinds of play styles: QTE, stealth missions, driving vehicles, light puzzle solving, and even some side-scrolling beat ‘em up sections. There is one absolutely ingenious set-piece where Vincent and Leo have to escape a hospital that has to been seen to be believed. The entire segment is one unbroken tracking shot that seamlessly hands control back and forth between each player—it’s cinematic and engaging. The sheer amount of creativity in the scenarios is impressive and the game never feels like it’s getting stale (it’s also quite short at roughly six hours long).
Another interesting aspect of A Way Out is that Leo and Vincent have distinct personalities that directly augment the way they play. Vincent is the smarter of the two and he would rather talk his way out of a situation. Leo is hot headed and would prefer to let his fists do the talking. If one player doesn’t play video games much, they can play as Vincent and have a much less intense experience than if they play as Leo. This is an organic way to make the game approachable to players of all skill levels–important for a game about cooperation. Although the game has a lot of variety, this has the effect of diluting the focus as some tasks control better than others.
Nothing is egregiously bad, but the shootout sections towards the end of the game feel quite clunky compared to other shooters on the market. It’s not game breaking but it’s worth noting. The graphics are a mixed bag and the character models and animations could use some extra polish. The environments look amazing though, and the cinematography, which is often ignored in cinematic games, is outstanding. It looks and feels like a movie and the plot beats ebb and flow in the same way. The story is fairly straightforward, but it takes some twists and turns that are compelling and I found the third act of the game to be masterful. The way the narrative is constructed can only be accomplished within the medium of video games due to the interactivity and it plays with those conventions in a subversive way.
While A Way Out is not a perfect game, it is something fresh that is needed in gaming right now. With the glut of multiplayer shooters flooding the market, there needs to be an alternative for people who want something more introspective yet still crave to play games with other people. As an aside, players only need one copy of A Way Out to play the game online together which makes it even more enticing. At thirty dollars, players can’t afford to miss out on this unique experience. 4/5 Bibles.