Imagine, if you will, a player and their friend using creative thinking and teamwork to escape from a high security prison. It sounds quite spectacular, almost too good to be true. This would be the players understanding after watching the trailer for A Way Out back in 2017.
Fans of the action-adventure genre might have fond memories of playing other co-op based games such as Army of Two and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The latter was developed by Hazelight Studios, so the hype around A Way Out would be understandable.This is all part of the EA Originals program, EA’s way of helping lesser known studios get their games out to the public. Other such games include Fe, Unraveled 1 & 2, and Sea of Solitude.
Fantasy Violence/Mild Blood: Throughout the game the player: Kills prison guards, robs the elderly, robs a gas station, tortures a man for information, kills a villa worth of drug dealers. The last scene in particular is very bloody for story telling purposes.
Language: The characters say things like: F**k, S**t, A**, B***h on a fairly regular basis.
Nudity: In the beginning of the game there is a scene where the new convicts are sprayed down with a hose in the nude. Other than that scene, the game contains no other nudity.
Upon starting up A Way Out, it is made clear that there is no single player mode, it is online only with no online matchmaking, meaning to play the game the player must recruit one of their friends to either join them on the couch or online.
Once connected, the players choose between Vincent Moretti, freshly incarcerated and sent to prison for fraud and murder, and Leo Caruso, who has been inside for six months for grand theft, assault, and armed robbery.
This game is unique in that the gameplay is displayed in split screen even when playing online, reminiscent of the old days of gaming. Days where friends would run home after school to boot up their N64, eager to play such classics as Golden Eye, Perfect Dark, and Mario Kart 64. As these two stories begin, both players get to watch them at the same time. While Vincent is being processed, Leo is walking the yard, talking to people he knows.
The two converge in a fight that breaks out in the basketball court. Leo is jumped by a gang of guys as Vincent is pushed into the fray. Successfully navigating the series of quick-time events means Leo and Vincent walk away as whistles of the guards break up the scrap.
A Way Out is designed like scenes of a movie. But unlike other cinematic games such as the Uncharted series, A Way Out feels abrupt in narrative transitions. One scene the characters are robbing a gas station, and the next they are at a construction site chasing a man down. A Way Out lacks open world environments. Every scene is on a linear path with little to explore. This linear storytelling is broken up with competitive mini games. The two players will face off in darts, horseshoes, baseball, Connect 4, arm wrestling, wheelchair wheelies, basketball, bench press, pull-ups, guitar/piano hero, and an arcade version of hot potato. The mini games convey little to the overall narrative and are meant to appeal to the competitive nature of the players.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the duo escapes prison within the first hour, after a few scenes that seem to be directly from the movie Shawshank Redemption. Unfortunately, it is not as well-executed as its the big screen equivalent. The rest of the five-hour play time is spent across various locations culminating in a epic raid on a Mexican drug compound.
The story overall is rushed, quickly transitioning scenes that vaguely connect together until the climax of the story. Unfortunately, the main characters’ relationship plays out as forced and unnatural. Not enough time is spent establishing motives or personality before the conclusion. Players expecting to have a cooperative experience of two convicts using their skill, dexterity, and quick thinking to escape a maximum security prison will be disappointed. The game was advertised as a prison experience, but in reality only a fifth of the game is spent finding a way out (pun intended). The rest gives the impression of an epilogue that should have been released later as a conclusion episode.
Keeping in mind that A Way Out was released at $29.99, half the price of a traditional Triple-A game, it is worth at least one playthrough. It has very low replay value due to the fact that everything is split screen and the mystery of the other player’s perspective is lost. The only difference is the final cutscene depending on which player is more successful during the final fight.
The ideal direction for this game should have been entirely prison-focused. Make the prison more of a sandbox, with different objects scattered around that the player must tactfully use in the planning and execution of their escape. The Escapist is a good example of this type of system: sneaking contraband around the guards, some you have to trade with other inmates to get.
Another system that should be implemented is an evolving AI similar to the one in Hello Neighbor. Every failed attempt would result in that route being blocked off. For instance, if the player attempts to escape through the vents and is caught by the guard, the vents are now padlocked or welded shut. This would make every escape attempt that much more tense as the danger of losing all progress would be imminent.
Finally, a randomized prison layout, like the town layout in Animal Crossing; reusing the same assets but in randomized locations would add uniqueness to each play-through.
Overall, A Way Out is a mildly interesting take on the action-adventure genre with its forced co-op and exciting quick-time events. The focus seems to be on the story, which is rushed, and less on the gameplay and replay value. It falls flat after leaving the prison, turning into a very generic third-person shooter towards the end. Players may feel deceived based off the trailer and all the hype surrounding the game. That, coupled with a six-hour run time and no DLC makes for a somewhat entertaining once-over..
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