Playing the two-player co-op game A Way Out is going to be a new kind of experience for a lot of gamers, as each player controls a different character on a split screen at the same time. Playing with the game’s writer director at Hazelight, Josef Fares, is a hoot.
A Way Out is a unique experience, since two players play together and try to solve problems at the same time. Each can choose a different path, since each can play fully on one side of the split screen. Sometimes they come together into a single cinematic or gameplay scene, and that’s what makes the game so fascinating and different.
I had a chance to get hands-on with A Way Out at EA’s headquarters recently, and my partner in crime was Fares, who played the brash Leo while I played the calm and collected Vincent. The game comes out on consoles and PC for $30 on March 23.
Fares is the crazy developer who made gamers laugh during The Game Awards when he yelled “f*** the Oscars” into the camera, saying that games are where it’s at. And he promised me at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) that “you can break my legs” if you don’t like A Way Out, which is being published by Electronic Arts through its EA Originals label, which focuses on indie developers.
We played a few new scenes from the game. In the first scene, we had to escape down a mountain, sneaking in the woods and taking out guards in a search party. In the next scene, we had to forage for food, go fishing, and cook a meal. I also had a chance to run through the scene in a hospital where Vincent tries to find his wife and son.
A tale of two prisoners
At the outset of the game, you’ll make a choice between playing Leo or Vincent. It’s an important choice because they have two different personalities and they solve the same problems in a different way. Leo is brash and impulsive. He’s willing to charge into a gas station store and pull a fast holdup. Vincent is calm and level-headed. He will casually walk into the store and case the joint before he acts.
“They’re totally different characters. They solve problems differently. They react differently,” Fares said. “There can be small details, like I mentioned about that magazine, or in the way they talk to non-player characters (NPCs). All that stuff is optional for the player. If you talk to people, you get to know the characters that way. But they’re unique, down to the animations. It’s not just systematic. The animations were acted for that character.”
At different points in the game, A Way Out will ask you which path to pursue or which plan to undertake. Will you go with Leo’s way or Vincent’s way? The outcomes could be very different.
Hands-on with the escape into the woods
We started playing about two hours into the game, after the two men had already escaped the prison. They were on top of a mountain and had but one path to go to get to the bottom. At one point, they have to boost each other and help each other up a rock face. They were trying to put distance between themselves and their pursuers, but they ran right into a search party.
Since they had to remain in stealth, they had to sneak up behind the guards and knock them out. I went one way with Vincent, and Josef went another with Leo. On my first attempt, I was discovered and we got caught. We had to replay it. Then we took out more guards, until we reached the final two guards, which we had to take out at the same time. The scene didn’t go on for too long, and that was good because we were able to take a detour into something completely different.
Fares has directed six films, and so he understands the importance of pacing. You can be strung out on adrenalin for the entire game. You need highs and lows, action scenes and lulls. That’s why Fares showed me the fishing scene.
“I’m just trying to see a game from a different perspective, trying to push the boundaries all the time, trying to take a risk. Let’s put in a fishing scene there,” Fares said. “Who cares if it’s a bit boring? I don’t give a fuck. This is what we’ll do. Let’s go with it. You can’t go around in life being afraid of everything.”
Leo and Vincent are starving, so they wade into a pond and try to catch some fish. They find some sticks and carve them into spears. I waded into the water, and Fares scared some fish in my direction. I speared a fish after a few attempts, and then we got some wood and started a fire.
I noticed the movement of the characters more in this part. They moved a little sluggishly through the water, and it didn’t always look perfect. But Fares accomplished what he wanted. The fishing was entertaining, and I wanted to keep doing it. We started cooking the fish, but we didn’t have time to eat, since Fares wanted to show me something else.
Crossing the bridge
In the next scene, we came upon a bridge. The cops had a roadblock in place, with their patrol cars and glowing red sirens. Vincent wanted to turn right, and go under the bridge. But Leo wanted to knock out one of the cops, take his car, and drive it over the bridge. Leo said he was afraid of heights, and that it was too risky to try to go under the bridge.
So Fares and I chose to go over the bridge. We had no problem silently walking up behind the cop and knocking him. out. Then I got into the driver’s seat and Fares was the passenger. At first, I had to choose between going slow or fast. I went fast. I sped along but another car got in my way. We stalled, and then the cops busted us.
The second time around, I did the same thing, clumsily steering the car into the back of a truck. On the third time, I went slowly, found a path through, and then sped. We went through the roadblock and the cops got into their cars in hot pursuit. I was forced off the road (no choice on that matter) and had to drive down a dirt path. We went off a cliff and flipped over. We survived, but then the cops let their dogs loose after us. Now we had to run for our lives.
Fares (Leo) got down and across a ravine first, and then I slid down a hill and had to time my jump perfectly. I had to jump at exactly the right time and catch Leo’s hand before I plunged into the ravine. It was a fast-paced, adrenalin-producing escape.
Into the hospital
Finally, Fares took me to the hospital scene where Vincent tries to find his wife and newborn son. We started out in the lobby, and we had to find out some information from the nurses. But the escaped convicts were in the news, and we saw a newspaper sitting on the counter of the nurse’s desk. As Vincent, I had to choose to move the newspaper into the garbage can. I was thoughtful that way. But Fares showed me what would happen if Leo did it. He moves the newspaper aside and folds it, but doesn’t throw it away. It’s possible, then, for the nurses to notice the faces later on.
Then we cut to an elevator. One of the security guards is suspicious of the two men going into the elevator. He joins. Leo wants to take him out. But Vincent comes up with a ruse. He pretends to be sick and contagious. The guard freaks out, and he gets out of the elevator at the next stop.
Then we cut to a chase scene. The camera focuses on one player at a time in a full-screen view. I started running and trying to escape from the pursuing cops. I ran through doors and moved to the end of a corridor. Then the camera switched seamlessly to another part of the hospital where Leo has to tangle with more officers as he moves in another direction.
The camera alternates between the two, and the player has to do things like blockade doors or hide when necessary. I sped through an operating room. The chase stalled, and Leo had to fight hand-to-hand in a side-scrolling part of the scene. Lots of cops took him on until he took the final one out with a metal object. And that was that.
Fares guarantees that you won’t be doing the same things over and over again. He noted that you’ll never do the fishing scene twice, and you won’t do the side-scrolling fight again either.
He said, “In A Way Out, diversity is very important. This is a cinematic experience. We need to keep it fresh and unique all the time. You’re investing in these characters, in their personalities. It’s not just a drop-in drop-out game. The characters react differently depending on who they talk to.”
I like that. A Way Out has plenty of surprises. It’s a cinematic experience, and it feels like you’re inside a movie. But it is also unmistakably a video game. F*** the Oscars indeed. I’m looking forward to finishing the game, and I don’t really want to break Fares’ legs.