I played A Way Out with a buddy of mine over the course of one day. It’s not because the game is short (the total time to completion with some messing around was around 6 or 7 hours), but because we were just so engaged with the plot and the constantly changing series of challenges and gameplay mechanics that we were simply having a blast.
A Way Out doesn’t ask if you want to play through with a partner, it mandates it. In an age where co-op (particularly couch co-op) games are dying, Hazelight’s newest game forces you to sit down with a partner and play through the game together, with both members choosing one of two characters, Leo and Vincent. Only one copy of the game needs to be purchased for two to enjoy. The owner can invite whoever, even if they DO NOT own the game.
We start the game in prison, where newby Vincent meets Leo, who is six months into his eight-year sentence. The game is constantly splitting the screen in different ways depending on who’s in the action. Occasionally, with even both screens coming together in moments of highlighted action or extended intense sequences.
The pair finds out they have a common enemy and, for personal reasons, decide the best course of action is to break out of prison and take their revenge. So they hatch and execute their plan: one player distracts guards while another gets a tool, the pair takes turns watching out for guards while pulling their toilet from the wall, or synchronizing button presses to scale a shaft.
The game takes the time to breathe, too, letting the player get to know both Leo and Vincent. A Way Out feels like what Telltale games would have been had they focused more on evolving the gameplay while keeping the core storytelling intact. That’s where, in my opinion, A Way Out is strongest: its ability to balance good storytelling with engaging gameplay.
Overall, the story is engrossing and kept me guessing the whole time. Some points felt obvious, such as Leo and Vincent escaping prison and coming out unscathed during many sequences. However, by the third act, I found the game constantly surprising me, including an excellent finale that left both me and my co-op buddy with our jaws on the floor. That’s not even mentioning the eight-minute hospital escape which is executed in one continuous shot, which astounded me and rivals scenes in movies like The Revenant or HBO’s True Detective.
If I had to find gripes with the game, it would be that some of the writing falls flat. Some cliched lines and deliveries make some of the cutscenes a little cringeworthy. That may mostly fall to the performance of Leo, which is, at times, hilarious and well done, but at other times over-the-top and a little forced. Some of the drama is also inserted for the sake of it, including a melodramatic choice ending. You choose between two endings, and without spoiling anything, one of them feels very half-baked and against the characters you’ve come to know over the course of the game.
That’s not saying the characters aren’t good, though. Both protagonists feel fleshed out enough that their missions feel justified and make the players want them to succeed. Their backstories are tragic, yet their new lives promise redemption, love, and solace. It’s hard not to root for the criminals, here. The supporting cast, while never as well developed, are a mixed bag of criminals and friends, all supporting and helping Leo and Vincent’s stories progress with ease. Every character feels so at home in this game, and despite the writing at times, the world feels believable and realistic.
However, like I said earlier, the storytelling mixed with gameplay is what keeps the game at a constant state of enjoyment. The game is never the same, with different sequences that make the game constantly evolve, you never play the same sort of sequence twice. Some examples of this include a side-scrolling beat-em-up segment, a motorcycle escape where both players are on separate bikes, the aforementioned long-take escape, a third-person shooting section, and a stealth section where you need to time your movements and silent takedowns.
When the game allows the player time to breathe, it encourages exploration despite not having sprawling areas, with small mini-games (such as darts, arm wrestling, baseball and balancing in a wheelchair) and plenty of hidden achievements to find simply by interacting with the environment. Some of this builds character, some is just for amusement, but all of it is awesome and makes for a great experience.
It’s Hazelight’s obsession with never letting the player go through the same events more than once that makes A Way Out so constantly enjoyable. It was a blast to play through with a friend and, if you have one of those, I definitely recommend it.
A Way Out Overall – 4 out of 5
To summarize, A Way Out is a great (mandatory) co-op experience with great characters and engaging gameplay. Hazelight knows how to keep the players on their toes, constantly throwing new gameplay mechanics and elements at us to assure we’re never bored. It’s a game that’s almost a movie, and that definitely screams to be played in one sitting and, if you’ve started it, is very hard to put down.