Gaming editor Christopher Hall reviews the precision 2D platformer N++, one that sets itself apart but is missing something that would place it among the greatsWritten by Christopher Hall on 24th September 2018
Review: A Way Out
The PoorShank Redemption, Gaming critics James Honke and Zak Hughes review A Way Out, another over hyped game that failed to deliver
When A Way Out was announced in 2017 at EA's not-quite-E3 presentation, it took many by considerable surprise. The slow death of story-focused games was predicted and the finger of blame was pointed squarely at the nefarious Star Wars: Battlefront publisher. Indeed, the announcement of a story-based, co-op-only title piqued the interest and raised the eyebrows of many; and from the initial trailer it looked like EA and developing studio Hazelight were gunning for characters, narrative and a level of technical polish to rival the Uncharted series. It seemed like a breath of fresh air: a narrative-driven game based on a daring prison escape, with the unique inclusion of the co-op element that required you and a trusted friend to work together to gain freedom. Equally as surprisingly, A Way Out is a game with no microtransactions, no competitive multiplayer mode, no cosmetic DLC; it also features the welcome, yet depressingly noteworthy, inclusion of a system that allows two downloads of a game with one purchase. It was shaping up to be a very un-EA game indeed; and a format with some decent potential if done right. On the face of it, A Way Out had crawled through a river of EA’s shit and at least aimed to come out clean on the other side.
It's just a shame that the sewage tunnel ended in a cesspit.
Now, call me old-fashioned, but in my character-driven story, we like our characters to be.... likeable, at the very least; but alas, it seems this was too much to ask of Swedish studio Hazelight. A Way Out centres around the slightly podgy Vincent (whose name we had to google despite finishing the game mere hours ago) - who can only really be described as "a slightly podgy man" - and the distractingly large-nosed Leo – who is, seemingly unintentionally, a genuine piece of shit. The game starts with "an homage" to The Shawshank Redemption, as slightly-podgy man Vincent (controlled by player 1) is led into the prison after being found guilty of some, narrative-wise, insignificant and quickly-forgotten crime, before being subjected to the traditional cavity search and hose-down; whilst scumbag Leo - under player 2's control - is free to watch the ritual humiliation unfold from the perspective of an established inmate. This is one of the better aspects of the game - when simultaneous action is unfolding from two different perspectives on the vertically split-screen (and one that probably would go unnoticed to those playing on separate screens). The pair are later introduced to each other and discover that they share a common enemy in the form of generic naughty naughty man Harvey (once again, google was used), which leads them to form an at-first-uneasy alliance and concocting a plan to break free. What this means for you and your co-op partner is navigating several light puzzles built around co-ordination and gameplay co-operation - or just hitting every button prompt in the vicinity until the right thing happens. Most of these puzzles are fairly well put together for co-op, albeit not requiring as much thought or planning to elevate them beyond simple scenarios, as they mostly revolve around going from place to place doing naughty things whilst your partner watches for guards.
Aside from the tedious characters, this element of the game is relatively competent and engaging as you work your way through a selection of competent co-operative puzzles. Asides from the slower puzzles, some of the faster-pace action sequences are quite well put together, utilising clever camera work to switch the focus from one player’s character to the other’s.
Major Spoiler Warning
However, upon reaching the end of the prison sequence / B movie (which contrary to what the title would lead you to believe is just over a third of the way into the game), A Way Out becomes considerably worse. Suddenly the game moves away from the adequately original prison escape that was promised in the marketing material, to a forgettable revenge story in a series of cliché environments (farmhouse, trailer park, hospital, theatre, drug mansion, etc). Oftentimes these environments feature bizarre - albeit sometimes mercifully distracting - co-op minigames that seem to have been added purely as filler. It almost seems like the environments and the minigames were created first before the story was awkwardly crammed into proceedings. This is made even more evident as dialogue barely rises above the functional “let us go here and do this thing”, and offers nothing to the at times irritating characters as the story limps towards the eventual goal of revenge against naughty naughty man Harvey. It's cliché in the worst possible way, and features such gems as: “Oh no, my heavily pregnant wife is in labour, we must hurry!”, “This untrustworthy side-character I totally trust for some reason has suddenly and pointlessly betrayed us!”, and, a personal favourite, “I’ve just you and we hate each other but we’re still BROTHERS because of our brief hate-fuelled adventure”. The voice acting is hilariously horrible - with some of the Swedish actors not even bothering to keep up their altered accents for many of their lines. It’s like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room performed by the Stockholm Amateur Dramatics Society. The visuals, on the other hand, are appealing with a cinematic style similar to the Uncharted series; unfortunately, though - and as many game developers seem to need reminding nowadays - a pretty vista doesn't make up for a poor narrative and godawful execution.
Indeed, the similarities to other games/media in a variety of genres are rather eerie. The Shawshank Redemption’s influence is obvious, but other parts of the game often feel like a stitched-together pastiche, or a poorly written fanfic with all of the most heinous and oblivious cliches: car chases look very similar to their Uncharted counterparts, dialogue sections suddenly veer into LA Noire territory (albeit far more poorly written and often utterly nonsensical or pointless) and a final ‘twist’ which made Die Hard’s “they're not terrorists!” feel like Shutter Island by comparison. Learning and borrowing from the best is one thing but this feels like a 6 year-old painting the Mona Lisa in smeared spaghetti hoops. A Way Out had potential - it really did - and for once it seemingly wasn't EA that killed it; the engine is seemingly impressive and graphically there's little wrong with it, but the characters and story (ultimately the most important aspects) are unforgivably poor and the overall execution leaves a bad taste in the mouth - much like prison gruel