When the schedule for our GameBlast19 marathon stream was revealed in January, I was pleased that A Way Out had made the cut. I’d been looking forward to playing it for a while and it seemed as though it would be great for an extended gaming session: something with a good narrative to rope us in and simple controls.
I wasn’t wrong. What I’ve learnt during five years of GameBlast events is that if you haven’t got your hands on a controller, you’re going to fall asleep at some point during those 24-hours. The cooperative style of A Way Out meant my other-half and I could play at the same time, so we were both involved in that section of the stream and it made it somewhat easier to keep going. After a few minutes’ debate we picked our characters and jumped right into the story.
If you haven’t played this game yet and intend to do so, I’d highly recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There will be some major spoilers in the paragraphs towards the end.
I went for Leo Caruso: a man who has completed six months of an eight-year prison sentence for grand theft, assault and armed robbery, after a plan to steal and sell a famous diamond went horribly wrong. He may initially come across as insensitive and headstrong, but it’s obvious he cares deeply for his son Alex and wife Linda. The most touching moments in-game are those where he’s with his family and for all his faults and misdemeanours, you can see he really does want to be a good father.
The story begins when Vincent Moretti (Pete’s character) arrives in the same jail after being convicted for fraud and murder. They become reluctant friends when a thug sent in by crime boss Harvey tries to murder Leo – and it turns out that Vincent has a history with this dodgy villain too. Together the pair complete a daring escape plan so they can seek their revenge, during which they become closer and more trusting; but neither protagonist is aware of what it will cost both them and their families (more about that later).
A Way Out is only playable in either online or local split-screen co-op, so it’s not a release you’ll be able to get through on your own. The players need to cooperate and help each other in order to progress; this might consist of taking on different roles, such as one distracting a nurse while the other steals a chisel, or timing button presses correctly. One of the best parts for this is when it’s necessary for Leo and Vincent to climb up a tall shaft, and they do so by linking arms and walking upwards with coordinated steps.
There are more action-focused sections also where, for example, one character has to steer a vehicle while the other takes shots at pursuers. There are several Uncharted-style gun-rights towards the end of the game although these aren’t particularly long or difficult. You’re usually presented with a choice of choosing Leo or Vincent’s way of dealing with a situation (head-on and somewhat reckless compared to more strategic), and both players must agree before you can move on.
Ultimately though, A Way Out is a series of quick-time events (QTE) set to a plot so you might want to give it a miss if you’re not a fan of Quantic-Dream-type titles. I don’t mind a QTE every once in a while though as long as the narrative is good enough to hold my attention, so I found Hazelight Studios’ release it to be a pleasant and casual experience for around seven hours. That was until the end however, when something happened to make me almost completely change my positive opinion.
The reason why Vincent is on the scene is very personal: he’s a police officer who’s on the hunt for Harvey, his detective brother’s murderer. His sibling was shot dead six months earlier after going undercover to expose the theft of the famous diamond by Leo and the crime boss. He essentially uses his new ‘friend’ to track down Harvey before killing him in act of revenge – and then turns the table on Leo, knowing that a whole lot of police are going to be waiting for him when they land at an airport.
It’s not this plot-twist both Pete and I objected to but rather what came after it. Leo manages to subdue Vincent and uses him as a hostage in order to hijack a car. It eventually ends with a gun-fight between the pair on a rooftop in the rain where there can only be one survivor. In that space of time, we were continually thinking that Vincent would come up with a way of letting Leo escape as he finally had what he wanted in Harvey’s death… but no. The cop was going to pursue him until the bitter end, one way or another.
This absolutely sucks. Not the most eloquent phrase I’ve ever used in a review but it really does suck and for two reasons. First, the characters bond over the course of the game and eventually develop a level of trust, sharing their worries about their futures and their families. Leo even provides Vincent with a certain level of ‘marriage counselling’ on the flight to the airport mentioned above and this is what keeps him together with his wife, if he survives the final confrontation.
So it therefore doesn’t feel right to have Vincent betray his partner throughout the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for an entirely happy ending and I understand he’s a police officer who’s ‘doing his job’, but it just didn’t feel as though it flowed with the rest of the title. There’s also the fact that the switch in gameplay from cooperative to competitive is incredibly jarring – although I have to admit this does effectively imitate the emotion the protagonists must be going through themselves.
The second reason for the huge suckage is that the player isn’t given a choice about the characters’ fate: they’re simply told to battle it out with button bashes to see who reaches the gun first and therefore lives. When Leo was successful and a scene showing an aim icon over Vincent appeared, Pete and I sat staring at the screen for a while because neither of us wanted to see either protagonist die. Eventually we had to give in because there was no other way to move the game forward.
I know all video games present an illusion of choice and it’s ultimately the developer’s path we’re walking, but players want to feel as though they’re able to affect an outcome. To not offer the chance to save both Leo and Vincent seems inappropriate almost. There was a chance for the criminal to now be with the family he loves, even if he’ll spend the rest of his life constantly looking over his shoulder; and there was a chance for the cop to move on after his brother’s death and realise his wife and new daughter are the most important things in the world.
Although I wouldn’t necessarily now say A Way Out is a bad release, the ending has tainted my opinion of it somewhat. Perhaps that makes me a selfish gamer and I should accept the experience of the story that Hazelight Studios wanted to tell. If you’ve played the game, I’d be interested to know what you think: how did the ending make you feel and would you have made a different choice if you could?