Demo Disk is a series of first impressions posts for new releases and quick opinions.
“The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage.”
A Way Out is a two-player co-op action-adventure game about two prison inmates, Vincent and Leo, staging a breakout in a series of puzzle-based levels. I first came to play it upon invitation from Player 1. It begins with each player selecting which of the two characters to play as through the story. The information provided about them sets them up as the two different ways of playing the game.
Vincent is the analytical thinker and Leo is the man of action who gets things done. In other words, working things out versus doing things. Those are the two different ways we both play these sort of games. I prefer to take in a level with a clear head and mentally calculate the most effective way of proceeding, whereas Player 1 is more interested in going straight into it and applying a process of trial and error.
Both methods have their own advantages and work for different scenarios, which is something the game design understands. Some levels called upon one of our respective skill-sets more than the other, though the best levels combined both. It’s clear that creative director Josef Fares understands the different ways games like this can be played and has accommodated both of them – something which tells me, even this early into the game, that A Way Out won’t disappoint because it’s made by someone who “gets gaming”. This contrast in play-styles not only means it appeals to both of us but also meant it was never dull because we weren’t always being asked to do the same thing.
The co-op format isn’t a gimmick; there seems to be a pretty even balance between characters/players working together and doing their own thing. In fact, the characters don’t even meet each other straight away. Instead, each player learns the basics on their own before crossing paths. It’s an ambitious concept but it’s made accessible and easy to understand by being built-up.
We must know how to play as our character individually or we won’t be able to play together. It’s an approach that shows developers Hazelight know what they’re doing and are aware of how easily suffocated the players could become if thrown straight in and I think their conscious awareness of this works towards the effectiveness of the core mechanics in a way that could easily be underestimated. The existence of the characters prior to meeting each other makes them compelling in their own right so they’re never defined only by their connection to each other. That’s why I doubt the game-play will become monotonous – the co-op is fun but only because it’s balanced with each character and their player maintaining autonomy in their own right.
Of course, this can also work to a disadvantage. One player can end up waiting for the other and certain QuickTime events are extended indefinitely until the other player’s character has done whatever they need to do for them to both continue through the level. When this happens, it does somewhat expose the internal mechanism and create some ludo-narrative dissonance. Ultimately, the smoothness of the game-play is dependent upon both players progressing at the same rate, which – given the two characters’ appeal to the contradictory ways of playing – will inevitably not always happen.
As it is, the level design is focused-enough for the objective to be obvious but non-linear enough to compensate for each player’s own personal strategies. Overall, it works more times than it doesn’t. It can be annoying but it’s inevitable and is a necessary supporting structure for the rest of the game. Conversely, it can also have a positive effect by providing an incentive for each player to keep up with each other as much as they can.
In that way, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: that each pair of players will get from it what they bring to it. It could bring you closer together or it could become the catalyst for a relationship that was always going to breakdown. I think that speaks to its ultimate power – that each player’s relationship with the game both depends-upon and impacts their relationship with the other player. After only playing the first thirty minutes, I can already say that everything it does has been carefully considered and calculated in order to do, in the best way it can, what all great games do: bring people together.
A Way Out is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
The Purple Prose Mage is the author of the Racing Game of the Week column and likes reviewing the latest book he’s read on his own blog at alexsigsworth.wordpress.com. He’s also one of the Well-Red Mage’s deputy editors and maintains the Archives. This is a side-project he’s working on while he finishes his novel.
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Categories: Demo Disk