Electronic Arts showed a lot of potential blockbuster games yesterday, but one that showed its originality off was a little indie title from its EA Originals label, dubbed A Way Out. It was a wonderfully creative co-op game about two friends breaking out of a prison.
Josef Fares, the head of Hazelight, a new studio from the creators of indie hit Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, was so proud of the title as he walked out on stage and described it. I caught up with him in a small group interview and played a small part of the game in a hands-on session. It was hilarious because Fares was so excited about his game, and he wasn’t holding back.
“When you play this game through, I guarantee you will never play anything like it before. I guarantee you. If you don’t like it, you can break my legs,” he said to a fellow journalist.
“That seems a little extreme,” the journalist replied.
“I am so sure,” Fares replied.
But I have to agree. The game seems amazing. The game is about two friends, Leo and Vincent. It’s a two-player co-op title, so one player controls Leo and the other controls Vincent. What is interesting is that the game is a single screen when a cinematic scene is playing. One player can be controlled while the other is watching a cutscene. And the screen splits into two screens when players are independently controlling the friends. Split-screen co-op games are relatively rare these days, but Fares said he misses them.
On stage, EA showed how the friends work together to escape. One might distract a prison guard while the other does something secretly.
In the behind-closed-doors demo, Fares showed another sequence centered on a gas station robbery, where I got to play with another journalist. The first decision we had to make as a duo was who would get the gun. Vincent said he should get it because he was less trigger happy, and he could do the robbery “the easy way.” Leo said he could do it the “fast way.” Both of us chose to give the gun to Vincent, who preferred not to make a scene.
We got out of the car and Fares explained we could hit the “square” button (we were playing on a PlayStation 4) and engage with bystanders. You could press a button for focus, hold the stick down for running, and interacting via “square.” We talked with one person filling up a gas tank, and he made a remark about how the whole country was going bad.
Non-player characters (NPC) might turn into problems during the robbery. One of the friends goes up to a phone and discreetly cuts the wire. Another talks to a different NPC, who complains about the prices. Vincent tells him that there’s another store down the road with lower prices, about a 10-minute walk away. The NPC leaves. That’s one less person to worry about. And if we had failed to do that, the guy would have used the phone to call the cops.
Then, Vincent goes up to the clerk and begins the robbery. The female cashier is defiant, but she bows to pressure and says there is a safe in the back. Vincent opens the door, and someone attacks him. As Leo, I have to rush in and quickly clock the guy with my fist. Then, we have to get the combination to the safe. I do so by intimidating the clerk. She gives the combination. Vincent opens the safe, and an alarm goes off. We go running off to the car and escape. Fares points out there were many places along the way where the robbery could have gone wrong.
Fares showed us another scene in a hospital (it wasn’t playable), after the prison escape. Vincent visits a woman who has a baby, and he says, “She’s my child, too.” But then, the cops show up. The two characters split up. But this time, for part of the scene, the camera follows the actions of one friend. One player has to successfully navigate past the pursuing cops and reach a checkpoint. At that point, the game seamlessly transitions to the other character, and that player has to then take over the controls and make sure the character evades the cops. It goes back and forth like that, and sometimes, it splits into two screens again.
That’s where Fares said the game is completely original. It was a small part of the game, but it was amazingly original.
Patrick Soderlund, head of EA’s studios, said on stage that A Way Out will have an emotional story, not unlike the emotional impact of Brothers. Fares said that the partnership with EA is enabling him to fulfill his creative vision without having to worry about other matters. EA gave Hazelight $3.7 million to make the game, but Fares said his team has remained small, even to the point where he was personally doing a lot of motion capture for the game.
“Josef and his team at Hazelight represent everything that EA Originals stands for,” said Soderlund.
Fares said there were a lot of inspirations for it, like the games from Naughty Dog (Uncharted, The Last of Us).
It’s not like you can just walk out of the prison, he said.
“It’s going to take a long time,” Fares said.
The title comes out in 2018 on the PC via Origin, the Xbox One, and the PlayStation 4.