By Melody Klink
A Way Out, Hazelight Studio's new co-op tale, is a return to great form in storytelling.
The game, headed by the same brain that brought us "Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons," is a visual stunner that forces players to think about every choice they make-- while this mechanic isn't new to the gaming world (think Mass Effect, Life is Strange, etc.), the way it's executed in A Way Out is wholly unique.
Played either online or couch co-op style, two players take the reigns of characters Vincent Moretti and Leo Caruso, both convicted and sentenced to prison for a slew of crimes. Each character plays entirely different from one another; Vincent is cool-headed and calm, while Leo has a smart mouth and is always down to scrap. This dynamic plays out in every way in the game; when it comes to major decisions, you and your partner must choose together whose route to take, either ending in a sneaky, smooth path or an all-out brawl. This requires you to think a few steps ahead, and you must be in agreeance with your teammate to continue on. This is where A Way Out starts to feel real-- you have to talk it through. While some folks don't appreciate being forced into a two-player-only experience, this is exactly how the story shines through and has the most emotional impact. Each branch has its own storyline before converging back into the overall arc.
What's the story arc, you ask? Breaking out of prison and getting revenge! Vincent has been convicted of a heinous crime he didn't commit. Leo was screwed over and took the fall for an entire operation. What do they have in common? You guessed it: the same sinister man is behind them both.
While that covers the big bad of it all, A Way Out offers so much more. Both men have families that you'll search out while evading the cops, leading to some hard-to-swallow emotional moments. They'll reminisce and contemplate their old lives. They become fleshed-out characters, rather than caricatures of the genre they're in.
Vincent and Leo's adventure together is full of QTEs (Quick Time Events, those SMASH THE RIGHT BUTTON QUICK moments you've surely experienced in other titles), interacting with the environment, and working together in order to accomplish tasks, such as wall-walking up a very tall shaft.
By the way, one of you is very afraid of heights.
By the end, the two have forged a bond that's been tested by bullets, betrayal, and a moral gray-ness that their lives have been thrown into. Unfortunately, not all that glitters is gold, and the finale will have players making some very tough choices.
From a technical standpoint, A Way Out is a gorgeous game, with well-rendered environments and characters, though you might hear background lines repeat, or see generic faces more than once. The controls are usually smooth, with a few random hiccups here and there, especially when you're trying to hurry up and complete a task. (Player's fault? PERHAPS.) It's played in split screen, allowing both players to see the interactions of each character at the same time. Important scenes will often take over the screen from either narrative, and when the game requires a little more teamwork, you'll see three panels of action: Vincent's, Leo's, and the enemy or task in question. The dynamic splits, for me, heightened the cinematic experience of it all. That's not to say you won't accidentally cut off your teammate from talking to a random NPC sometimes, but it's nothing game-breaking. The game also offers a "Friends Pass" for your second player; only one of you has to purchase the game for both to play it!
With a $30 price tag and a rollercoaster of a storyline, A Way Out is a fantastic addition to any co-op lover's library. Clocking in at about 7 hours worth of gameplay, the title makes them all count; it pulls no punches, and usually aims for the gut.
You think it's a prison break game: it's so much more.