Concise Game Critique - A Way Out

Concise Game Critique - A Way Out

Developer: Hazelight Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA Originals)
Released: March 23, 2018
Played on: PS4 (Windows, Xbox One)
Played for: 5h (one playthrough, loaded a save to see both endings)

A Way Out is a split-screen co-op adventure about two unlikely allies, Vincent and Leo, that decide to break out of prison together.

A Way Out is a two-player co-op game, and that's the only way it can be played. The gameplay is a mix of David Cage style adventure game
(Heavy Rain, Detroit: Become Human) and Uncharted-like action spectacle later on. The unique thing about it is the fact that it has been designed from the ground up to be a split-screen experience, even if you play online.

The split-screen idea is interesting, and for the most part if works well. The two players control their own characters at the same time, and they can see what the other player is doing by looking at their side of the screen. If one character starts a conversation, and the other does the same thing with another character right after, the second conversation is quieter, but both have subtitles. The proportions of the sides also occasionally change depending on the situation, giving more room on the screen for more important actions or events in the story. On one hand, this creates a very dynamic, cinematic experience, but on the other, it can be a bit hard to follow at times.

What probably bothered me the most about The Way Out was the dissonance between the amount of minigames and possible side activities the game offers to the player and the urgency of the story. Stopping to play an instrument or try on hats for fun while the police are on the duo's tail feels very out of place. So does stopping to play Connect Four while Vincent should be with his wife, or trying to hit a homerun in back yard baseball when Leo should be looking for his family.
These activities are fun on their own, but in the context of the story, engaging in them makes little to no sense. There is one twist in the story near the end of the game that is also a bit hard to swallow considering everything that has happened up to that point. It's not horrible, but it does seem unnecessarily convoluted.

Concise Game Critique - A Way Out Concise Game Critique - A Way Out Concise Game Critique - A Way Out Concise Game Critique - A Way Out

Much like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (that was directed by Josef Fares, as was A Way Out), A Way Out tries to tie its mechanics to its story, and to tell a story in a way only a videogame can. It does achieve this, but unlike in Brothers, I don't think it really works. The thing A Way Out does near the end of the game is a huge spoiler, so I can't really get into it here, but suffice it to say it tries to subvert the players' expectations in a way that is, in my opinion, unfair.

I think I understand what the game is trying to do, and I appreciate the risk it takes, but for me (and for my partner in crime) it really missed the mark. What's more, I even have a solution for it, a relatively simple one that could have possibly made the game really special, but alas, A Way Out is simply...ok. It has two endings, only one of which felt right to me. There are multiple reasons for this, but one is a plot point that is very close to a Chekhov's gun that's never fired. Still, I probably felt at least some of the emotions the developers intended me to, so I guess they got some things right.

As a couch co-op experience, I really had a good time with A Way Out. The gameplay is compelling and has a lot of variety. The controls are never bad enough to get in the way, but during certain action scenes the lack of polish shows through a bit. The story is well told, directed and acted, even if it is a bit convoluted. There are varying degrees of dissonance between the story and the gameplay, but the game is a fun ride overall. There aren't many co-op experiences like this one, which is why I would recommend it, even if it didn't quite reach its potential in the way I think it could have.

3/5 You didn't really have an escape plan, did you?

Get A Way Out:

Jay Marksman, January 30, 2019

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