In an industry that’s often criticized for “playing things safe,” A Way Out is anything but: a story-driven cooperative game where you’re required to play the entire game in split screen with another person the whole time. To make a game like that takes a level of vision, sophistication, and outright brazenness that many in the industry just wouldn’t normally set out to do. The question now is, was it a risk worth taking?
Let’s take a step back for a second. A Way Out comes from a handful of developers that also made another risky game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It was a game in which you traversed the world as the titular brothers by controlling one brother on each analog stick. Although the control scheme never worked for me, I loved what they were going for and really enjoyed Brothers. A Way Out is exactly what you’d expect from developers of that game. Going away from controlling both central characters, A Way Out has you control one of the two protagonists in the game: Vincent and Leo. Whether online or off, you will pick one of the two characters after getting a brief bio and then immediately jump into their stories.
A Way Out is a game that’s as much about the story as it is about the moment-to-moment gameplay. As such I’m going to only talk about the very beginning of the game's story and try not to touch on much of the rest. It opens with Leo and Vincent in prison and, as the title suggests, the two meet up and begin to develop a play to find... "a way out." For the first hour of A Way Out, the two characters will interact in ways that feel both organic and forced by the developers to push story beats forward. For example, one of the first things that happen is Leo geting into a fight and Vincent, who’s on the other side of the prison yard, needs to come over and help out. And from there, your friendship/partnership is born.
There are a lot of instances in A Way Out where you need to talk with people in the game to push things forward. This can be used as a way to distract someone, or a way to gather information. One of the caveats to having a story-driven game be in split screen is that A Way Out allows two conversations to happen at once, with the dialogue's audio overlapping. The game seems to prioritize the conversation that happens second, but it doesn’t stop the other conversation from happening. It ends up just garbling both conversations, making it sometimes difficult to hear what’s happening.
However, that’s one of my only gripes about what is otherwise a smart and well-developed experience. There were at least a dozen times through the six-hour game that I put my controller down and was downright amazed at how organically developer Hazelight was able to make experiences come together without putting an arrow on the ground and saying "make this happen". I played the game with my wife, who’s not a gamer, and we had so many times where we’d meet a certain spot or start a puzzle together without even coordinating. While other spots did require more outright coordination, it was cool how organically these moments rose.
One of the other things that surprised me in A Way Out was that both its story and mechanics continued to surprise me. There wasn’t ever a point in A Way Out that I felt like there was filler content. In fact, if anything, I wanted more of it. Hazelight does a fantastic job of refining, changing, and redefining game mechanics as you go through. I was incredibly impressed not only with the story, but also the moment-to-moment gameplay from start to finish. It’s also a beautiful game. The character models (especially Leo and Vincent) look great and the environments are varied and well designed.
When A Way Out works, it’s one of the most magical video game experiences around. It’s not always perfect, but it’s such a breath of fresh air that even when it doesn’t quite gel, it’s still a joy to play. I loved A Way Out. I think it’s one of the more unique and interesting games released in recent memory and, for that alone, I can’t help but give it a strong recommendation.
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.