“Harvey killed someone very close to me. With or without you I’m going after him.”
A Way Out is the co-op game to end all co-op games. Not only is it one of the most interesting and absorbing games I’ve played in a long time, it’s also one of the best co-op games ever made. It manages that rare thing of managing to successfully implement co-op and not break the immersion (Resident Evil 6, Assassin Creed Unity). The story takes a lot of cues from cinema, with scenes referencing films such as Heat, Scarface, The Shawshank Redemption, and even a fantastic sequence aping the hallway fight from Park Chan Wook classic Oldboy. But the game never feels like a series of parodies and manages to quickly identify itself as something completely unique. Players choose their preferred character at the beginning; one is Vincent, the methodical ex-banker who usually chooses words over violence and the other is Leo, a hot-headed, aggressive, but ultimately good-hearted career criminal. Thrown together in prison during the game’s first act, a shared desire to escape the Shawshank-esque hellhole brings them together and the two slowly begin to form a friendship. The kicker is though, as the two men bond over things as varied as a parkour chase through a construction yard to a sedate game of connect-4, the two players will bond also. But as will most real-world friendships, it’s not all plain sailing.
A Way Out can be played online or in couch co-op but as director Josef Fares has said, it really should be played with your co-op partner by your side. But if you play online you’ll still get a split-screen experience as your screen will be divided as it would in local co-op. You’ll wanna play this game with someone you know, preferably someone you’ve got some co-op gaming experience with. I played with my brother and regular gaming partner, Jack. I chose Vincent, he chose Leo. Some rando online probably isn’t going to cut it with this game. One of the games recurring co-op moments see you having to shoulder barge a door in perfect synchronicity. The game doesn’t spell this out for you, you’ve just gotta work it out with your partner. Another bit sees one keeping watch for guards while the other slowly chisels his way through the prison cell wall. It devolved into real-world shouting and hitting as one of us warned of approaching guards but the other thought he could get just a tiny bit more chiselling done before the guard shined his light into his cell. It was some of the most fun and frustrating co-op I’ve played in a long time and wouldn’t have been at all as memorable without him sitting next to me.
The gameplay of A Way Out is secondary to the co-op narrative experience but what it offers is pretty fantastic. The game has a habit of trying something; a driving section or a stealth section and then never doing that again. And that’s not a criticism, I loved how the game was like a jukebox of interesting ideas and moments but ones that were always secondary to the story being told. Interestingly, the game it most reminded of was Heavy Rain. Only with actual gameplay. The game is balanced in such a way that the third act is the most action heavy but the shooting is surprisingly solid. The driving controls are a bit wobbly but just when you think you’re getting fed up with them – boom, the game changes gears again. The graphics are often impressive, with colourful vistas and varied cityscapes littering the games different levels. This is especially impressive considering the games small install size (just over 17gb on Xbox). It clocks in at just over 5 hours (or about 7 for completionists) so it is a bit on the small side. But considering it’s retailing for around £20 it’s actually pretty decent. The game is more akin to a movie though, with all of the narrative peaks and flows that entails. If possible, try to complete it in 2, maybe even 1 sitting for maximum enjoyment and emotional impact.
A Way Out is a strong contender for my (very early) game of the year. I’m quite certain there’ll be games with better gameplay this year and games I put more hours into (ahem, Red Dead Redemption 2) but I doubt there will be a game as completely unique and as utterly compelling as A Way Out. Grab your best co-op partner and get playing, this is the game co-op gamers have been waiting for.
Reviewed by Tom
Jack’s Thoughts on ‘A Way Out‘
Not to just repeat what Tom has said, but ‘A Way Out’ is truly a unique game, one that captures the essence of co-op gaming more than any game I’ve played. Weirdly, the thing I’d compare it to most is the overlooked Kane and Lynch sequel ‘Dog Days’. That game came really close to building up an actual connection between both characters and both players alike. But ‘A Way Out’ surpasses that. And like ‘Dog Days’, ‘A Way Out’ is the product of a love-it-or-hate-it vision. Except this cinematic vision won’t give you motion sickness, and causes less feelings of shame.
After playing the 6 or so hour campaign, I genuinely missed Vincent and Leo. Everything we’d learnt about them, not to mention the bond they’d formed. I missed the camaraderie, the banjo/piano duel, the chase scenes, the story. It feels like a six hour movie – one that is incredibly entertaining and engrossing. And it’s biggest achievement is that it makes you care about the characters and the world. So much so that’ll you spend the majority of the game wandering around chatting to NPCs.
For me, ‘A Way Out’ is almost perfect. It has some graphical flaws, but considering it’s reduced price tag I’m amazed that the worst of it is a few weird faces. I know some people will not care for it, it is story heavy and there are a few lengthy cutscenes, but if you have someone to play it with and have been lamenting the lack of couch co-op then you have no excuse not to give it a go.