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. 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 ask “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 that have escaped from
prison for reasons Fares does not want to divulge yet. The two characters are
exactly the same in function, 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.
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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.