A Way Out
A Way Out was announced kind of cryptically at an Electronic Arts press conference, a quick clip of two silhouetted figures riding in a boxcar and looking up at the stars, setting the tone more than offering any details. All that was known then was that the new title was from the people that created 2013's Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. As time passed, director Josef Fares and his studio Hazelight have been proactive in wanting people to know what they're getting with A Way Out ahead of its release later this month.
I got a chance to play A Way Out with Fares as my co-op partner at Electronic Arts' headquarters. After shaking hands and picking up controllers, we sat down and Fares leaned from his chair to mine to say, "This is f---ing stupid, you know?" He looked at the Electronics Art representative we were sitting with. "I already know how to play this game, so he's not getting the full experience."
This more or less set the tone for playing the game with Fares, as he explained A Way Out to me through different chapters.
The game follows two characters who have escaped from prison for reasons Fares does not want to divulge yet. The two characters function the same way, though their small bits of personality shine through in their animations and dialogue. In the first chapter, the pair are attempting to avoid a police manhunt in a mountainside forest, with stealth and stealth-knock out mechanics exclusive to that chapter. One character quietly tries to make the pursuers pass out, while the other clocks them violently.
Both players have to work in tandem to get around the manhunt, and communication is paramount. There are several situations where taking out one guard without your partner ready to knock out the other one will result in things going sideways. At the end of the chapter, a choice was presented for both players to discuss. While it has no larger narrative influence, the choices can affect a personal I-told-you-so factor between players.
In another chapter, Fares, frustrated with the demo not being an ideal experience for discovery, announced that he would only follow me along as I solved puzzles, not performing actions unless I told him to perform them. Through this method, we managed to build a spear, catch some fish, and cook them for a brief scene of dialogue over the campfire.
"This is really f---ing cool," Fares said, picking the last save file from a list. The next and final chapter Fares showed me was a combination of Fares' ambition as a game designer and his experience as a film director. The two characters were escaping a hospital in a chapter Fares was happy to point out is one continuous shot, even during and despite the two characters splitting up and taking different routes.
A Way Out is so co-op focused that the game can't be played any other way. A single purchase lets you give another player online access to play with you, or as Fares suggested, playing it locally with someone on the couch next to you. The game is uncompromising in this vision, which Fares himself is unapologetic about, and the game benefits for being so stubborn in its inventiveness.
Fares pointed out to me while playing that making a well-paced game means he can use mechanics only when they're appropriate and not need to stretch them out. I remarked that's a thing games like Mario do, too.
He smiled. "Hell yeah they do."
A Way Out is out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on March 23. You can read our interview with Josef Fares here on the differences between making movies and making games, working with Electronics Arts on an eccentric indie game, and why he focused on co-op.