A Way Out: like a David Cage game, only co-op and good

Our hands-on impressions with the story-driven prison escape game from Hazelight Studios.

Sam and James sat down to play a short demo of EA’s A Way Out, which was recently announced during their presser on Saturday. Like the mandatory splitscreen co-op, they’ve shared their experience and thoughts in tandem. 

James: I didn’t trust myself with the gun. I’m not exactly sure who Leo is and what he’s like, but as a young buck with a slick haircut and a mean look, I couldn’t trust the guy. I should give some context: we just played a short demo of A Way Out, the co-op only splitscreen narrative game from Hazelight Studios, developers of the much beloved Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. A Way Out is more akin to a tale of two dads (at least one has a baby), where you play as one of two characters during and after a prison escape. In the sequence we played, we had to rob a gas station for money. Right off the bat, we had to choose who got the gun, Sam or me. 

Sam: We choose my character, Vincent, because in the cutscene I feel they frame James's character, Leo, as a hothead. Mine comes across as more of a smooth operator, and talks about a subtler approach towards the gas station. I take the gun, and we head over. I'm reminded a little of the games of David Cage in how you interact with other characters. Some guy is stood by the gas pumps. I go up to him, and I'm given the option to lure him away from the gas station, no doubt making the robbery a little easier when it kicks off. Vincent bullshits the guy by telling him there's a cheaper gas station a short drive away, and this tempts him to leave. By removing that character, he's one less factor I have to consider when the robbery goes down.

Leo doesn't look like a guy to joke around much.

James: While Sam talks to the guy outside, I head into the gas station. There’s a skittish man standing near the door, and I ask him if something’s the matter. His voice cracks and stammers, clearly intimidated by my slick haircut and jutting chin, and I ask if he needs anything in a wry way. Nevermind him, there’s gum and beer to be had. I pop a quarter into the gumball machine and chew, a walking ode to Grease. As if Leo wasn’t edgy enough, I pull a beer from the fridge and knock back a few gulps before putting it back in. He and I are clearly putting on a show. These interactive prompts don’t have a noticeable effect on the situation and you don’t need to perform them, but they color in the characters ever so slightly. 

We don’t want anyone calling the cops, so I scope out the place for problems. There’s a payphone in the back and a man standing near it who probably won’t laugh and clap once we kick off the robbery. I can see Sam moving into talk to the guy, and after a few words I don’t catch, he scurries off. We don’t need to sabotage the payphone anymore, but better safe than sorry. 

Samuel: The two brothers have different personalities, and the objects they can interact with in environments reflect that. So while Leo guzzles a beer, Vincent clearly enjoys fishing. He picks up a reel and starts playing with it. I like these little instances that shed more light on the character, but it's about time we robbed this damned place. I convince another NPC to take his business elsewhere, and walk up to the attendant. There's an option to start the robbery, and another to offer a pleasantry to the lady working the store. I offer a pleasantry for now.

James: I’m a bit worried we’re making too much of a scene, asking customers to leave and loitering, so I talk to the cashier. Leo gets an option to flirt, so of course we do. Have you seen my hair? I tell her she looks good, she bites and jokes with me for a bit, says my wife’s lucky, and we end the conversation in high spirits, flirting with one another and disaster. 

Samuel: As charming as James-Leo is, his flirting isn't making us any money, so it's time to finally rob the joint. Vincent puts the gun in the attendant's face. She insists there's little money in the store anyway. Vincent presses the point. 

Things went down differently in this snippet from the trailer.

James: While Sam-Vincent performs the holdup, he screams something about checking for a safe in the back room. I sprint to a back door I saw earlier—wrong one. I turn around and see another door near the register and head in. As soon as I open the door a man grabs me and we struggle. He’s got me in a dangerous hold. I’m helpless. 

Samuel: With James in trouble, I run into the back room and punch the guy in the face to break him free. When I return to the counter, the NPC who was stood around the shop has run out to fetch the cops. 

James: I should’ve told the kid to scram. Anyway, the safe is there, but it’s as safes usually are: locked. Leo-Me yells about needing a combination and I head back to the woman running the store for answers. I press for the combination while Sam waits at the safe. She won’t help, so I choose an intimidate option, ‘We’re not screwing around, lady!’ She caves, gives me the combo, and Leo yells it to Vincent in the back room.

Samuel: I open the safe, grab the cash and we're away! I point the gun at the lady and try to pull the trigger, but Vincent just fires into the air. This isn't an action game, after all, and the overarching story in A Way Out is prescribed—so you can't just go around mowing NPCs down. The cops have been alerted by the guy who ran out of the store, so now they're on the way. How many NPCs were around, and how they did or didn’t contribute to the scenario wasn’t clear, but I’m glad they’re around to muck things up.  

James: Yeah, I’m not sure how much actual variability there will be in each scenario, but the addition of a simultaneous playable character to a linear narrative game makes each situation feel far more complex than they might be. But then again, they might be far more complex than I realize. I don’t just have myself to worry about, after all. I’m trying to keep track of Sam’s choices and how they’ll influence my own. It’s definitely going to be best as a couch co-op experience as two players panic and argue over who has the best plan, like Leo and Vincent undoubtedly will. More than anything, if the story and characters aren’t any good, it doesn’t matter how complex the interactions are. This plays like a clip out of a movie, and it’s promises a lot. We’ll see how it all comes together when A Way Out releases early next year.