A Way Out is a series of short co-op challenges strung together with story, dialogue and a little exploration. It’s a compendium of split-screen puzzles, stealth, takedowns, combat, driving, leaping and foraging.
In itself, this is impressive. Most third-person action-adventure games center on a core mechanic — usually shooting and fighting — while adding additional side tasks for the sake of variety and pacing. But A Way Out looks like an entire stew of disparate actions, an array of activities. Its only dominant exercise is running, which is appropriate for a game that’s about busting out of prison.
Players take on the role of either Leo or Vincent, two convicts who scheme to get out of the big house. Working together, they overcome guards and obstacles, eventually breaking free into an open world fraught with difficulties.
During the sections I recently played, there’s a delightful dynamism between these two men. Vincent is centered and cautious, while Leo is abrasive and capricious. This makes for a smart, funny, buddy-movie atmosphere, augmented by cracking dialogue. Set pieces allow players to choose onward paths, allowing for real-life, on-the-couch arguments that complement on-screen relationships.
You can see this at work in the gameplay video above. The two men debate on the best way to get across a bridge that’s swarming with cops. Vincent favors a hard climb under the bridge. Leo is all about grabbing a car and smashing a way through.
Either way, this narrative game ends up in much the same place, but the point is that the journey differs, and the players decide which route to take.
As the game moves on, there’s plenty of exploration, minigames and stories based on dialogue with non-player characters. All of this promotes a playpen feeling of searching out the game’s spaces.
Some sections are quiet, almost reflective. Leo and Vincent get lost in the wilds and must work together to light a fire and catch some food. During the search for useful stuff to gather, the story plays out through excellent dialogue, which serves to reveal the personalities of the protagonists as well as their dramas, while also driving the plot forward.
In another scene, the boys must escape from a hospital, setting in motion a frantic, single-shot experience that switches back and forth between players, creating one of the most thrilling co-op scenarios I’ve ever played.
When A Way Out was first shown at E3 in 2017, its main point of interest was the fact that it was made by Hazelight, the company behind Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. That superb game was also about two men on a journey, but it was a single-player experience that made use of the characters on screen in order to create puzzles for one person to solve.
This game is made for two people, preferably in the same physical space. It can be played online with a friend, and only one person needs to have bought the game. That said, it’s not a drop-in, drop-out co-op game. At around eight hours long, it demands commitment from both players, and is thus a kind of appointment gaming experience.
A Way Out will be released on March 23 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One, and is priced at $29.99. I’m enormously impressed with what I’ve seen so far, and looking forward to playing it with a variety of friends.