reader comments 12
View more stories
LOS ANGELES—Maybe it was the lingering excitement from the EA press conference a few hours earlier. It could have been the long day, the jet lag from his home in Sweden, or the cup of beer on the meeting-room table which kept on getting refilled.
Whatever the reason, film and video game director Josef Fares was amped up. After being asked a softball question—”when did you team up with EA to release your upcoming game A Way Out“—Fares somehow locks eyes with all four writers in the room simultaneously.
“Let me tell you this: working with EA is great. They never tell me what to do. Super supportive. The shit people say about EA? I’ve never seen anything like that.” Fares took a drink. “If someone comes to me and says, ‘if you do this, you’ll sell one million copies more,’ my answer would be, ‘go fuck yourself.'”
Fares pointed at his eyes. “The vision decides. The only way something goes into A Way Out is if my heart goes—” and he pantomimed a pulsing motion with his hand.
“This is not Heavy Rain!”
I might have laughed at such bravado if I hadn’t seen the co-op game’s stunning world-premiere trailer earlier that day, or if I hadn’t gone hands-on with the game shortly before his treatise. Fares and his small team at Hazelight Games are on the right co-op track with A Way Out, and this 2018 game just might surpass their last cooperative adventure, 2013’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
In A Way Out, two unlikely allies, Leo and Vincent, must pull off crimes and other villainy to exact revenge on someone. That’s as much as Fares explained about the game’s plot thus far, and you won’t get much further plot-wise if you simply chain together the events from the game’s trailer. Which is fine, because for now, that lets us focus on the game’s dramatic split-screen presentation.
By default, each character gets half of the screen, during which time they can walk around, start conversations, interact with highlighted objects, and, when appropriate, use an equipped object like a gun. Should either player elect to do something dramatic—in my demo, that meant initiating a robbery inside a gas station—that player’s half of the screen swells while a brief cut scene plays. During that time, the other player can still walk and interact with his or her surroundings on the other half of the screen.
In my demo, this split-screen mechanic proved revealing. I noticed some motion in the larger, dramatically framed window of the other player. After pointing this out, the other player walked towards the motion, revealing people in the gas station trying to leave. If we hadn’t caught him, the police would have arrived and sent us to jail. The dual-perspective trickery helped us catch other possible breakdowns in the robbery, and it kept us on our toes—thus breaking up the “put your controller down” moments in modern, narrative-heavy games.
Or, as Fares put it, “This is not Heavy Rain! Every time you’re more passive than interactive, I don’t like it. I want you to control.”
Additionally, Fares says Vincent and Leo’s distinct personalities, and your choice of which to favor, heavily impact how each scene plays out. The former man is calmer and almost hippie-like, while the latter favors confrontation and belligerence. When two players walk into a new situation, they have to come up with a plan. Which of them is going to talk to which people? What might that set into motion? In my gas station scenario, each leading man had to convince customers to skedaddle before the robbery went down.
That was complicated by a unique start to the demo: We only had one gun, and we had to decide, as a cooperative gaming duo, who was packing it under their own shirt before we could walk in. Until my gameplay partner and I simultaneously selected a single person in the game’s “conversation wheel” system, we were stuck in our car.
This added surprising tension to a decision that would play out much more simply in a single-player game, and Fares says the full, final game will have many more of those “unanimous decision” moments. (He also confirmed a lack of random online matchmaking. If you want to play A Way Out online, your partner needs to be on your friends list, and both players see the same split-screen action. Otherwise, A Way Out is all about local couch play.)
A rare case of a gaming “long shot”
I saw one other behind-closed-doors demo of a gameplay portion that EA did not include in the game’s reveal trailer, and I’m surprised Hazelight didn’t include it.
The mission opens with Vincent having a tender exchange with a loved one at a hospital, while Leo interacts with objects in a nearby waiting room. Police sirens interrupt the moment, and both men start running. But this isn’t a split-screen sequence.
Instead, Hazelight first aims the full-screen camera at Vincent as players control his climb out a window and run up a fire escape. When the cops appear, he’s the only one actively moving around. Once he climbs into a hidden vent, the camera passes Vincent’s body and quickly warps through the vent until it settles behind Leo. The other player must be prepared, because Leo needs to be controlled as he runs from another ambush of cops on the opposite end of the hospital.
The scene played out this way for a few minutes, with control and camera angles switching back and forth between the game’s two players, all while the camera held a steady shot. Fares didn’t describe it as such, but I couldn’t help but compare this “long shot” moment to similar dramatic uninterrupted sequences in film, TV, and music-video history. It really looked like nothing I’d seen in a game before (and I’m very wary to say that, especially about narrative-heavy games).
Impressive as the demo was, I wonder how substantial the final game will feel. Some of the conversation-wheel options I saw were underwhelming, and the gas-station sequence included so few interactive elements that I felt unchallenged. So long as my partner and I walked up to the room’s few shiny objects and tapped them, we would win. Hazelight needs to carefully balance the options and choices they give their two-player teams in resolving each crime-related challenge.
But the emotional rush I felt from that hospital sequence gave me hope that even if A Way Out launches with a handful of underwhelming moments, it will likely blow players away with its coolest highlights—and Fares suggested how those will play out in dramatically cooperative fashion.
“Once you finish [the game] from start to end, you’ll play something you’ll have never played before. The later part of game, it will fuck with your mind, but in a good way! I can’t talk about it because it’s the game’s essence. What I say to my team every time I come to the office: ‘Let’s fuck things up!’ I say that all the time. What the fuck, we have a short life.”