A Way Out is a purely co-op experience, one that I teamed up with legendary editor Chris Mitchell to help me break out of prison and live a life of virtual crime. There’s no single-player mode here; you’re tasked with playing with another player to control two convicted felons as they work together to bust out of a well-guarded prison. And you’ll be doing it all via splitscreen gameplay the whole time; just be thankful that only one player needs to have the base game to play, even when handled online.
When starting you’ll each have to choose between playing the rash and outspoken Leo or the calmer, rational Vincent, two convicted felons who meet in prison. Leo’s no stranger the penal system, having already been there awhile; let’s just say he knows who to talk to if he needs a “favor”. Vincent, the older of the two, is a fresh arrival still navigating the ropes. The two men are as different as night and day, but they have to work together to bust out of the joint and take down a common enemy.
A Way Out employs its co-op mechanics rather well by easing you into the experience instead of just throwing you in cold. You start off from the viewpoint of the character you’ve chosen (I went with Vincent) and from there it’s like sitting back and watching a movie play out.
One scene is illustrative of this: Leo and Vincent are thrown into a fight together after a confrontation with another prisoner, meaning they must work together to get out alive. This was our first introduction into the epic, slow-motion fighting scenes that became a joke between me and Chris. There’s plenty of over-the-top scenarios absolutely brimming with obscene amounts of violence, but these are so engaging you’ll find yourself eager for the next one to arrive.
For a purely co-op game things are kept pretty lively throughout, with few slow moments to let our anti-heroes breath. Being forced to cooperate with another person heightens this in strange news ways I hadn’t expected, mixing in a varied assortment of minigames, puzzle solving, and even timing button-presses with your partner. And it’s precisely here where things really shine as we’d constantly stop to strategize before moving forward performing tasks like standing back-to-back while climbing a wall or sneaking through grass to take out police officers.
In many ways A Way Out plays like an extended version of Telltale’s interactive story games I’m a huge fan of, just with a friend in tow. There are moments where you and your partner can decide to go with the flash/bang route that’s classic Leo, or the subtle “let’s try not to get caught” strategy of Vincent. One scene requires you to sneak past dozens of cops standing guard on a bridge; you can choose to steal a police car and drive through guns blazing, or to climb underneath the bridge to avoid detection. A nice touch is both people have to agree to go with either Leo’s or Vincent’s way, you can’t pick an opposite one and continue with the story.
Thankfully Chris and I didn’t have many disagreements about how to proceed (disclosure: most of the time we chose Vincent’s decision), though I can imagine such tandem thinking might stall the story for people who like to go with full action instead of the subtle route. To be fair, this does encourage multiple playthroughs if you’re curious about seeing how everything plays out.
Unlike those episodic games, however, there’s no set formula A Way Out seems to follow as the game constantly experiments with different gameplay styles, with mixed results. One part had me driving a truck while Chris was in back firing at police cars with a shotgun, but the police would crash into the truck like in GTA to stop us. In another we’re both wielding guns while trying to take out bad guys, but the aiming always felt off no matter what we did. It’s in these frantic moments where the game’s lack of polish really begins to show, which is frustrating considering how well the rest of the experience was.
Janky mechanics aside, A Way Out is a co-op experience worth at least a few playthroughs to really let the experience sink in. Together, it took Chris and I roughly six hours to complete it the first time through, which isn’t bad considering you spend the entire time working together. Of course, it helps to actually like the person you’ll be spending all those hours with and I’m guessing that your experience will vary greatly on just whom you choose to partner with. So choose well and you just might find…a way out!