Before players even launch A Way Out, it's evident that developers Hazelight Studios said "no" to a ton of contemporary trends. A Way Out stubbornly plants itself squarely between single-player, narrative-driven games and the PvP elements found in massive series. Players don't even have to buy two copies either thanks to the Friends Pass feature that lets anyone join someone who purchased a copy at no additional cost. Couple that with a $30 price tag and no plans for microtransactions or DLC and you've got an ambitious recipe.
With such promises being made, players become skeptical, and rightfully so. Games that promise so much often don't succeed, or at least fail to meet expectations. A Way Out is not one of these games. A Way Out delivers at nearly every turn, and though it falters in some areas where it steps out of its comfort zone, it's a prime example of the way co-op gaming should work.
With how integral the split-screen is to A Way Out, it's such a welcome discovery to find that having half a screen for most of the game never detracts from the experience. After finishing the entire 7-8 hour campaign and starting over to explore new decision paths, I never once found myself annoyed with having to share a screen. It doesn't drag you towards the player who's going the right way if you're too slow to catch up, and most advancements through the levels require both players to be present, so there's rarely a fear that you'll miss something.
At most times, it even feels like there are two games going on at once. Leo and Vincent, the protagonists that players control, must work in tandem to escape from prison and right their shambled lives, and though they're often working towards the same goals, it feels like each character has their own thing going on at all times. You'll largely be in-tune with your partner's actions, but there are times where you'll only be able to catch glimpses of what's going on while you're invested in your own actions, something that leads to some potential for additional playthroughs.
A Way Out plays like a long, interactive movie full of shared quick-time actions, a movie that's carried by Leo and Vincent. The individual and shared stories between the characters are also ones that are easy to get invested in despite their adventures being a tad predictable. While players journey from prison to hospitals to planes, the constant changes of scenery keep everything fresh, but integral plot points can be seen coming from a mile away.
Leo and Vincent's most enticing appeal is that they leave impressions on players. Both characters receive brief bios at the beginning that detail their crimes and personalities, but they're not as stereotypical as the descriptions might suggest. Rough and tough Leo has a soft spot at times while the level-headed Vincent isn't afraid to get dirty and pull out a gun, and though this does border on the predictable criticism mentioned above, it prevents the characters from being walking clichés. The option to choose which character you want to play as every time you take a break and return to continue the story or a previous chapter allows players to play the other character for a change, but I still found myself returning the same character, Vincent. It's not because I thought myself more of a Vincent, the game just makes your played character grow on you. It makes you feel as though you understand their troubles, and you want to help guide them through them.
With how heavy the focus is on quick-time button presses and shared actions between players, it's worth appreciating that it rarely ever feels unfair. Players get ample time to complete their actions, and no moment comes to mind where I thought "I didn't fail that, I pressed that button in time!" These sequences that require coordination and communication lead to a lot of "we did it" moments and high fives when successful, but when A Way Out steps outside of its forte, it stumbles at times. A cover system is employed during certain stealthy moments that requires holding down a button while navigating out of sight, though players will often pop out of cover at the worst times due to the slightest button press. This cover system also inhibits the sparse times where players have to wield a gun and stay alive using barriers, but firefights are so infrequent that it's hard to knock the game too much for that error.
While the mantra that games shouldn't require friends to be fun rings true even when the game makes co-op mandatory, A Way Out gives plenty of opportunities for player interaction to shine. Decisions are plentiful and must be unanimously agreed on by both players, decisions that are reached in strategic and sometimes heated conversations on the couch or online. These paths often lead to completely different cutscenes and results as well instead of routing players to the same conclusion, so the chapter replay feature will be vital to satisfy all your "what if" moments. The game is filled with minigames as well like throwing horseshoes, lifting weights, and playing an arcade game to take a break from the main story, though they eventually feel repetitive. Artificial scores or competitions of who can press the button the fastest are entertaining for the first few times, but once you've played a few of the minigames, you've played them all.
Despite its occasional faults, A Way Out's spirited revival of the split-screen co-op genre shine through these hiccups in a way that brings players together for a robust story that's packaged nearly perfectly. It's not too long, its low cost and abstaining from DLC and microtransactions makes it insanely worth the price, and the Friends Pass feature means that a new experience awaits when it's played with as many friends as you want. A Way Out is a game that should not be missed, and it should stand as a reference for future games to see precisely how co-op should work.
WWG's Score: 4/5