A Way Out review: It’s more friendly with two

Credit: EA Originals
Credit: EA Originals /

A Way Out’s adventurous escape is a bit of a rocky road, but the majority of the journey quickly becomes a happy, lasting memory you can share with another.

Developer: Hazelight Studios
Publisher: EA Originals
Platforms: PS4 (Version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release date: March 23, 2018

This review will contain mild thematic spoilers for the entirety of the game, but will avoid any specific plot details past the first two hours.

As a teenager, I longed for more co-op games. When my best friend and I had exhausted ourselves on Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mario Kart, we wanted to share our favorite story-based experiences with one another without having to pass a controller back and forth. I remember playing Tales of the Abyss together, staying up until 6 a.m. to beat it, even though Player 2 only joined the game during combat. A game like A Way Out would have sounded heavenly to teenage me (even if certain elements such as visible genitalia in the opening scene may make this questionable for younger players). Now, married, I’m finally able to share a co-op experience from beginning to end with my favorite person. A Way Out is a rocky start to what I hope becomes a trend, but it’s still a promising one.

A Way Out must be played with another person. It is best enjoyed (according to the developers) as couch co-op, and after making my way through the six-ish hour game with someone else next to me, I heartily concur. It is possible to play online with a friend via a Friend Pass system that allows you to invite one person to play with you without them having to buy the game. All they must do is pick up a free download which does not allow them to host their own session, but will let them join yours for the entirety of the adventure. The download was not available before launch, so I did not get to test this feature, but if you’re going to use it I highly, highly recommend voice chat of some kind. You’ll want to strategize and banter throughout.

You’ll choose your roles for each session as either rational, level-headed Vincent, or fiery, punchy Leo. Both Vincent and Leo have been arrested for things they did not do (though neither was entirely innocent of any wrongdoing) and both have beefs you’ll learn about early on with a fellow named Harvey who allegedly got them into the mess. The two quickly forge a partnership in their common interest: escape from prison, find Harvey, and bring him down. And through this, a friendship blossoms–one that’s surprisingly full of emotional support and tender moments, despite an initial appearance of a generic, tough, buddy story.

Though “A Way Out” sounds as though it refers to their prison escape, you actually spend less than half the game in prison. In fact, A Way Out may be one of the best-paced narrative games I’ve played in a long, long time. Never once did I feel that I was wasting time, repeating things I didn’t need to do, or seeing cutscenes that didn’t matter. The cinematic edits are precise and intentional, though not at the cost of rushing through slower, deliberate, emotional beats. There’s a good mix of fast-paced action and moments of calm interspersed. By the end, I thought I knew the characters very, very well.

a way out
Credit: EA Originals /

It’s difficult for me to define exactly what genre A Way Out sits in, because the gameplay itself encompasses many different things. There are frequent Telltale-esque QTEs (with admittedly a lot more variety than I’ve ever seen from Telltale) and occasional branching choices that both players must make together. The latter does not affect the outcome of the game, though it does often dictate which of two scenarios you’ll see and how the characters react to them. But there are also third-person shooter gunfights, stealth sections, exploration-based puzzles, dramatic escapes in cars and on motorcycles, and plenty of optional games you can pick up in quiet moments like Connect 4 or a pick-up game of basketball. You’re rarely doing the same thing twice, and the variety infuses the game with personality and energy.

Unfortunately, it also ensures that none of these systems are especially deep. For some of them, it doesn’t matter much, but the biggest problem I noticed was the utter stupidity of the enemy AI both in the shooting and stealth segments. You can sometimes just walk up to people and hit them, or walk right next to them without anyone noticing. This rarely detracted from the urgency of the moment, but it occasionally provided an exasperated laugh when we realized the “we thought we were dead” moment was just a fluke.

Credit: EA Originals
Credit: EA Originals /

I didn’t like the end, but I don’t think I was intended to like the end.

The irregularity in quality extends to the game’s graphics, which alternatively can look gorgeous or horrendous depending on the section and camera angle. There’s one moment out in the woods where a pristine, shimmering pond full of fish caught our attention for several seconds with how beautifully it was rendered. This was in contrast to a repetitive and ugly water flow in a dark sewer about an hour earlier. Characters’ hair is probably the worst offense, followed by stiff facial animations that sometimes don’t correctly convey the emotion of the moment. But A Way Out didn’t promise me gorgeous vistas, and with a steady framerate and no weird graphical blips messing with my gameplay (a guy did zoom through a door once), I was able to forgive it.

What I was here for was the game’s co-op gameplay and story. As a short game to play with a friend or loved one, A Way Out mostly nails the tough task of ensuring meaningful cooperation alongside individual responsibility. Though I would have liked to see more ways to tackle certain scenarios, in general, the requirement for communication, discovery, and teamwork works well both to guide the story and the player.

a way out
Credit: EA Originals /

There’s an incredibly memorable sequence about two-thirds of the way through the game in a hospital where the two players must pass control back and forth to one another. The perspectives, playstyles, and character personality fall perfectly into sync for a tense and dramatic escape. Another, much earlier in the game, asks for constant communication as one player keeps watch and distracts while the other performs a multi-step task. Moments like these gave purpose to the co-op gameplay style, further convincing me that I need more experiences just like this.

But unfortunately, I have one remaining sticking point, and that’s the ending. Without going into details, there’s a dramatic twist at the end of what I thought was a wholesome friendship story that changes everything established up to the last 30 minutes of the game. At first, the twist added a fabulous turn to an otherwise fairly generic buddy adventure, using a subversion of the gameplay you’ve gotten used to so far in a way different from but still reminiscent of the ending of Hazelight’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. But in its final moments, the twist unravels some of the characterization the game spent six hours developing. I didn’t like the end, but I don’t think I was intended to like the end. It was a decidedly artistic subversion, but it left me very unsatisfied despite the hours of enjoyment that preceded it.

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I recommend A Way Out for anyone who has a friend to play it with. It’s short enough that you’re not going to get caught up trying to schedule a million play sessions (it can be done in 2-4), and for almost the entire game, it’s decently good to great. Some mechanics and visuals are rough around the edges, but the mostly-linear play ensures that the little flaws here and there won’t disrupt your adventure. There’s also, helpfully, a Chapter Select that unlocks when the game is done so you can revisit and remake the choices from any section of the game you like without having to do it all again, though if you have more friends who want to play, there’s enough to see to make it worth a second run.

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<em>A Way Out</em> has its share of warts, but for the most part, they didn’t hinder my enjoyment. The marriage of co-op gameplay and the story of two unlikely partners and friends is an almost perfect combination right up until the last few minutes of the game, though I expect feelings on that to vary. It could use another round of technical polish, and you’ll need a friend to play along with, but if neither of those is a problem for you, then you won’t want to miss this adventure.. Hazelight Studios. . A Way Out. 8

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.