GAME REVIEW: A Way Out
Maxwell Alexander on the new local split-screen co-op experience
Title: A Way Out
Platforms: PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 23, 2018
Rating: PEGI 18
Multiplayer video games have changed a lot over the medium’s short history. Games such as Pong pitted us against our friends, Super Mario World let us charge through a platforming classic together. Games like Halo ramped things up with 4 player LAN parties, and the massive world of Azeroth in World of Warcraft let us make new friends and tackle quests with complete strangers.
Multiplayer games have changed not just technologically, but geographically as well. The industry has seemed to all but scrap the idea of local multiplayer in favour of the online/service games model, at least when it comes to story driven games anyway.
So when A Way Out was announced at E3 in 2017 as a local split-screen co-op experience, this gamer was extremely excited to plug in player 2 and go on adventure with a friend. Not a gamertag or some stranger, but a physical person in the same room (how novel).
A Way Out is a strictly co-op split-screen experience. You can play through on the same sofa, or invite someone from your friends list and play through online. There is no matchmaking, so you will have to have buddy on hand to have any hope of even turning this one on.
This is both A Way Out’s greatest strength and biggest flaw.
The game starts in a prison, with one player assuming control of stoic new inmate Vince and the other, hotheaded inmate Leo.
It doesn't take long for these two polarising characters to start working on a plan to escape the prison. To do this, players will have to work together as a team to overcome obstacles and obtain the relevant tools needed to complete Leo’s plans.
No section demonstrates the need for teamwork better than a section early on in the game where you are tasked with digging your way out of your cell in the dead of night.
While one of you is prising the toilet away from the wall to make an escape route, the second player is having to keep an eye out for approaching prison guards, distracting them so that the other player doesn’t get caught.
This section was incredibly tense and forces both players to talk to each other, in one of the most fun co-op experiences I've had in a long time.
It's a shame then, that after leaving the prison at the start of the game, those sections where verbal communication is key become almost non-existent and the co-op aspects of the game become nothing more than the trivial jobs we come to expect from other multiplayer games. Jobs like boosting a partner up a ledge, or stealthily taking out enemies simultaneously.
I wish I could say the game play was exciting enough that this didn't distract from the fun being had. Unfortunately, we are presented with a number of clunky stealth sections that feel like they were pulled right out of a Metal Gear Solid clone from the PS2/Xbox era. Overly long shoot outs with waves of unintelligent, bullet sponge enemies and way more Quick Time Events than any current gen game has business offering. It's not that these sections feel terrible to play through, it’s just that, at best, they are functional.
Thankfully, director Josef Fares tries to keep things fresh by changing the game mechanics at every turn. Players will find themselves in everything from high speed car chases to navigating the rapids in a dinghy. But I found most of the fun I was having was from the numerous mini games that pit players against each other for high scores.
Games such as darts, horseshoes and even a very entertaining section where Leo and Vince see who can balance on the rear wheels of a wheelchair the longest.
The amount of mini games and the timing in which they become available did seem jarring from a story perspective. Especially for the character Vince, who is quite a serious character throughout the bulk of the campaign, but doesn't seem to mind playing a few games of Connect 4 while his wife is in labour.
Something that you could lay at the feet of the player or video games in general. This would be fine, except for the fact that the only time you can play this mini game is during the section where you’re rushing to the hospital to be at your wife's side.
Likewise, in another section you have the options to do the washing up and have a bit of a jam with Leo on the banjo immediately after locking an elderly couple in a cupboard.
I appreciate the level of detail each section offers in terms of how you can interact with almost anything in your environment, but do question the placing of these distractions in relation to where the characters are in the story.
Story is something that is taken quite seriously, if a little pulpy.
Once Leo and Vince leave the prison they team up to take revenge against a Mob boss that has wronged both of them in the past.
Peppered with side stories of a broken marriage, betrayal between friends, and even a chapter where Leo returns home and tries to repair his relationship with his son.
A Way Out is desperate to make you feel something for these characters, which is why some of the design choices are so confusing. The need to fit so many mechanics and mini games into the story makes some sections almost laughable.
One scene, in particular, came across more comedic than intense. A scene where you’re trying to squeeze some information out of a perp on a building site. To do so, players have to forage for tools around the site to get him to talk. One of the options bizarrely was a lamp, which for some strange reason solicited more fear from the bound criminal than a loaded gun. A reaction that broke the immersion with how ridiculous the very idea of that was.
The split screen can also get in the way of dialogue at times. If one player has initiated a conversation with an NPC and moments later the other player does the same with another NPC, only the first player can hear dialogue. There are subtitles but it is a little frustrating.
As by the numbers as the story can be, the ending is very fun. I won't go into spoilers here, but the dynamic takes a rather drastic change that creates for an intense ending with a couple of different endings.
It might seem from the above that for the most part I hated this game, but this isn't strictly the case. The mini games are great fun and the prison section in particular was a huge highlight.
This is a massively ambitious game, and with the amount it tries to put into its 6-8 hour campaign, is admiral. Ultimately, however, this game comes across as a jack of all trades, but master of none.