A defining moment for the couch co-op genre.
Couch gaming is more or less on its “way out” (no pun intended). Sure, there have been developers who have released couch co-op games in the past few years but their numbers are dwindling. With the emphasis on Games As A Service model and intriguing multiplayer experiences, it’s hard not to see why some developers aren’t sure whether this genre has a place in the modern industry.
So, when I got the opportunity to review A Way Out, I went in with very low expectations. For me, the pre-release footage didn’t look that impressive and if anything, I had this feeling that it will be yet another game that players will forget by the year’s end. But after playing it through multiple times, I am glad that Josef Fares and his team at Hazelight Studios have proven me completely wrong. To put it simply, A Way Out is unlike anything I have played. But before I explain what makes this game special, there is something I need to get out of the way. A Way Out is designed only for a co-op experience, local and online. There is absolutely no way you can play this game alone (unless you know some weird trick to control two joypads at one time, which in that case I must congratulate you!). This game has been designed, from the ground up, for two players only. So, keep this mind if you are a player who has an interest in solo experiences.
"At multiple points during the game, players will be presented with choices…go with Leo’s rough and tough ways or choose Vincent’s sensible and less daring path."
A Way Out tells a tale of two prisoners, Leo and Vincent, who found themselves at the center of a crime epic whilst focusing on a very distinctive story. This isn’t your mindless C grade, “kill everybody” kind of a story. There is a personal agenda involved with both the main characters and the well directed cutscenes made us feel connected to these people. As the story progresses you get to understand their motivations, and how they land up in prison. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to speak more about the story and how it unfolds, but what I can is that the game is filled with exciting twists and turns that kept me at the edge of my seat.
Now it won’t be much of a story if the main characters, Leo and Vincent, don’t have much personality to them. You see, both of these characters are different in several ways but so similar in their goals. Leo is voiced by Fare’s brother Fares Fares and he comes off as a really likeable character. He will throw out tantrums, crack jokes and sometimes talk non-sense, and it gels with the characterization the game is aiming for. On the other hand, we have Vincent who is more mature and methodical in his approach. These different personalities not only impact the story, but it’s also used as a gameplay element by the developers.
At multiple points during the game, players will be presented with choices…go with Leo’s rough and tough ways or choose Vincent’s sensible and less daring path. Interestingly, the choices aren’t that simple. My colleague with whom I played the game is younger than me and, in a way, represents Leo’s nature to get things done rather quickly. So, we were always at odds at how we should approach a particular situation. The game forces you to discuss among yourselves and take the path ahead. This gameplay mechanic also ensures that there is a high replayability value as different scenes will play out resulting into different gameplay objectives, hence giving your more value out of the overall package.
"Both players have to work together in various different ways to break out of prison which includes the likes of back to back climbing (which by the way is one of the most hilarious parts of the game), hide in a laundry carrier, or smuggle repair tools for breaking out."
The initial opening hours of A Way Out are perhaps one of the most intense ones I have ever witnessed in a video game. Both players have to work together in various different ways to break out of prison which includes the likes of back to back climbing (which by the way is one of the most hilarious parts of the game), hide in a laundry carrier, or smuggle repair tools for breaking out. None of these tasks can be completed alone as it requires the other player’s input in the form of creating a distraction, stealthily taking out a guard or creating opportunities that you would do in real life. Once you break through the prison, the game opens up a bit in its level design but that doesn’t stop the game to become even more crazy.
Once you are out, you still need to escape from the police. This will involve mind blowing chases, a crazy boat ride, and an absolutely phenomenal sequence at a construction site. In many ways, the game borrows elements from games such as Uncharted and that’s perfectly fine as it matches the tone the game is aiming for.
A Way Out is largely a linear game. You are given a specific task, and you have to decide the best course of action to achieve it. In order to negate the somewhat boring linearity, the developers have added a number of NPC interactions and mini-games in the game. You can play them with your partner and compete for the highest score. If anything, these will give players a nice break from the mind boggling and often tiring sequences.
"A Way Out is a defining moment for couch co-op games done right and I have every reason to believe that it’s a new champion for the the once popular genre."
Combat for the most part seems tacked on and it really felt to me that the game could have been better without it. Hand to hand combat is a set of quick time events and it employs an Uncharted like approach to shooting and it never felt good. The guns don’t handle well and there isn’t any kind of satisfaction involved while shooting down an enemy. Fortunately, shooting is a very limited part of the experience as most of the time is spent on devising the best path ahead and unraveling the story.
A Way Out is largely a good looking game. I mean, it’s using the Unreal Engine 4 so it’s bound to look good but I did manage to come across some inconsistencies ranging from mediocre animations to clipping issues. The music isn’t as exciting as it could be with the best tunes emerging from the initial sequences. These are not game breaking issues and doesn’t make the game less fun, but it would have definitely lifted the overall experience to another level.
A Way Out is published by EA, who as you know is under fire for its controversial practices regarding loot boxes and microtransactions. So if anything, this also proves that at least their Originals program is on the right track with games like Fe, Unravel, and of course, A Way Out.
A Way Out is a superlative effort by the team at Hazelight Studios and it’s simply a game which I will be re-playing a lot with my friends and family in the future. The new Friend Pass program allows players who own the game to share the experience with a friend is ground breaking to say the least. It’s a game tailor made to share gaming experiences in a way that it should be…together on a couch. A Way Out is a defining moment for couch co-op games done right and I have every reason to believe that it’s a new champion for the the once popular genre.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Co-op gameplay and the related mechanics are brilliant, tons of intense sequences, has a good amount of humor, many mini-games, level design is great, excellent voice acting, story is intriguing, highly replayable.
Medicore animations, hand to hand combat and shooting is bland.
A Way Out is a shining example of couch co-op gaming done right.