A Way Out
Josef Fares and the small team at developer Hazelight have a clear vision for co-op title A Way Out, and it's not just that the game can only be played via online or couch co-op.
Certainly co-op is a great gameplay format to bind the fates of Vincent and Leo as they attempt to break out of jail for their own, different reasons. This is good news for those who want more co-op titles, but what Fares and Hazelight believe will keep you engaged to the experience from moment to moment is the various gameplay mechanics within the co-op itself.
"[The demo] is also nothing that represents what A Way Out is," said Fares after letting me and a stranger play a slice of the game. "A Way Out is this five minutes, and it could be something else, also."
It may sound strange to say that what I played in a demo isn't actually what the game is about, but that's Fares' whole point – there's no one gameplay segment that represents the whole title.
He says that players may get into a firefight, crack open a safe, or myriad other actions as Vincent and Leo breakout and ultimately go on the run, but he says that nothing will overstay its welcome. There isn't action for action's sake – everything in the game is supposed to be there because it makes sense for that moment, not because a video game must contain X,Y, and Z. A great example of this is that there's a side-scrolling fight sequence that Fares says is the only one of its kind in the game. It's there and then it's gone.
"This is the vision," he says. "Even if someone tells me we're going to sell 10 million more copies if you do this, I'm going to say, 'No,' this is what it is. The vision decides. If my heart pumps, then we're going to do it. Otherwise, '---- it.'"
Hazelight's insistence not only impacts the gameplay, but A Way Out's cinematic eye as well. One incredible sequence in a hospital runs a fluid gamut of camera shots in which players are constantly in control of their characters while they navigate different parts of the building and the camera's perspective changes. This highlights a frequent aspect of the game – sometimes Vincent and Leo are together in the same space and sometimes they are apart, but players are still controlling them nevertheless. Even if one player is in the middle of a cutscene, the other may be doing their own thing.
The demo segment setup Vincent and Leo about to rob a gas station. Before the robbery my partner and I had to decide who was going to get the gun. Once in the station we went about our own tasks, but had to be mindful of what the other was also doing. In my case, I disabled a pay phone so someone couldn't use it to call the cops. I also had to subdue two customers. Unfortunately, our communication wasn't clear, and I let one of the customers get away – who then ran down the road to summon a policeman. This is an example of the kind of cooperation required to play the game as well as the different outcomes possible.
While Hazelight is insistent that A Way Out not overuse any particular gameplay mechanic, one constant it wants players to rely upon are the characters of Vincent and Leo themselves. Fares isn't giving away the story at all, but safe to say that the pair start out the game as total strangers with only the shared purpose of escape, and clearly they come together in some way through their adventures. The story hopes to bind you emotionally to the pair and their aims, and this, more than some specific gameplay action will keep you engrossed in what's going on up on the TV.
It's also part of how the title tries to ride the line between presenting an artist's vision and giving players control over their story. A Way Out isn't a title that's about freedom above all else and letting players do whatever they want in the world. Vincent or Leo aren't going to gun down people in a gas station because that's not who they are ("You're playing a person. A human being," says Fares). Casting gamers within the bounds of the characters may sound restricting, but it's the way that Fares and Hazelight have chosen to present their vision.
"I think if you stick to and believe in your vision," says Fares, "that's what at the end of the day is going to fill people's hearts."