A Way Out may not be what you expect. Despite a dark and gritty, prison-centric skin, this is still a game from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons‘ Hazelight Studios. Take control of two characters from one person and distill that over two, mix in some Telltale Games-like narrative action, and voila — that’s A Way Out in a nutshell.
Available in couch co-op or online multiplayer, A Way Out immediately grabs your attention. No matter your setup, you’ll play in split-screen, with protagonists Leo and Vincent gaining or losing screen space as the narrative flows. The two convicts are required to work together at all times, either using their adrenaline (in the case of Leo, above right) or their brainpower (the older, more reasonable Vincent, above left).
What follows is a series of linear chase sequences, quicktime events, relatively simple puzzles and optional events like arcade cabinets, Connect 4 or prison woodworking stations spread out over a variety of locations. Each sequence or activity is adequate, but doesn’t reach the dizzying levels of action or anticipation that No Way Out writer and director Josef Fares has spun around his work while discussing the game.
While playing, my partner and I knew when certain moments should seem tense — like a sequence where your characters are being chased by police and their attack dogs — but they didn’t actually feel like it. The music wasn’t punchy and didn’t fit the scene. Our path was literally a straight line from A to B with a fallen tree or two dotting the way. In short, that particular instance, like many more after it, wasn’t quite right. Not enough to stop playing, but the right amount to feel like something was constantly off.
Puzzles are relatively straightforward, mirroring a Telltale Games way of thinking though using mechanics that require two people working together, like Brothers. For my part, I would have appreciated tasks that were more difficult, requiring precise timing and saddled with actual consequence. If you make a mistake, you either instantly revert to a previous checkpoint or simply get to try a sequence again, lowering any sense of tension.
A Way Out‘s story is engaging, especially if you’re into films like Escape from Alcatraz or The Shawshank Redemption, but ultimately is predictable. Similarly, for a game that places so much importance on its main characters, they come off as one-note and bland. A final sequence does actually amp up the action, but I found myself struggling to feel concern for the main characters. That said, it provides even more reason to continue playing through the 7 hours or so of story.
Those wanting to play solo will find that they can’t — a second person, or at least controller, is required to play. Thankfully, you can rope a friend into playing with you at no cost to that person — both players can use one purchased copy, even online. You’ve more than enough incentive to try this out, especially at the price of $39.95 AUD (divided by two if your friend is nice).
A Way Out mightn’t be all I wanted it to be, but it is competent and different. That’s enough to recommend you try it — Hazelight’s latest might not be perfect, but it represents a genre and new mechanics I’d be keen to try again.
A Way Out was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.