A Way Out's co-op only, split-screen only concept is risky yet very cool

You'll need a pal through the entire story-driven game, and you'll share a screen even when you play online.

At EA Play we got a tease of Anthem, Bioware's next game, lots of Star Wars: Battlefront 2 gameplay footage, and plenty of sports games. The trailer that interested me most, though, the one I keep watching over and over, is the one for A Way Out, a co-op prison-break game from the creator of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

There's a lot of interesting things going on with A Way Out. First of all, it's not just a co-op game, but a co-op only game. Creator Josef Fares said the idea for A Way Out stemmed from looking for a co-op experience that wasn't simply drop-in, drop-out. He didn't just want a game you could play with a friend, but had to, from start to finish. At the same time, it's a story-driven experience, Fares says.

What's more, while you'll be able to play locally on the same screen, or with a partner online, it's split-screen only. "And I mean, only," said Fares, determined to make you feel like you're sitting together on a couch even if you're connecting with your pal over the internet. A story-driven, co-op only, split-screen only action adventure? Even though I can see some problems with a game like this, it's intriguing as hell.

The trailer shows the two prisoners, Vincent and Leo, who have been incarcerated in the same prison. Despite the fact that you'll be playing A Way Out with a friend, Vincent and Leo don't appear to be friends at all. Not only do they not know each other, they don't seem to like each other, with one convict not interested in working with the other. Hopefully, you and your real-life friend get along a little better.

While playing a split-screen game while sitting on a couch with a buddy feels normal, I feel like split-screen even while online might be tough to get used to. It could be useful to see what your partner is doing from time to time, but it doesn't seem like it would always be necessary. And there's something fun in games about communicating over voice chat to let your friend know what you're doing, which might be lessened a bit if they can see what you're up to at all times.

Granted, I’m only speculating, as I’ve never played an online split-screen-only game. If it's used in novel ways in A Way Out, it could wind up feeling not just natural but completely necessary.

From what little we've seen, it does look like A Way Out might be doing some interesting things with split-screen. In one portion of the gameplay video, we see a scene where Vincent has just arrived in prison but Leo has already been there a while. While Vincent is in a cutscene being welcomed by the warden, Leo can be freely controlled by the other player. I can see that being helpful in establishing the two characters, and making the two players feel as if they're having their own individual experiences instead of simply being an interchangable Player 1 and Player 2.

We don't have a lot of information about the game yet, though we see there are multiple ways of completing objectives, such as when trying to smuggle sheets out of a laundry room. In one instance, one player distracts a guard while another provokes a fight. Later, one player hides in a laundry basket while another pushes it. Giving players different tasks to complete at the same time, and having some variation in what those tasks are, looks like great fun and a good excuse to try new methods on different playthroughs.

I feel a little less excited when the footage leaves the prison to show scenes outside, with driving and shooting and policeman neck-breaking: these segments feel like more standard co-op fare that we've seen in other action games, and staging a daring and intricate prison break with a pal seems like a way more interesting experience than driving cars, shooting guns, and punching cops. 

I have a few doubts about the idea of a co-op only game. What if my friend goes on vacation for a week—will I betray him by finishing the game with someone else? What if my friends all play if before I get a chance to? Will playing with someone who has already completed the game once be as much fun as two friends playing it for the first time? And I have a few reservations about the split-screen only concept, as I said.

It's still really refreshing to see a game that is focused tightly on a very specific experience, instead of trying to be the perfect game for everybody. My doubts aside, I'm super interested in busting out of prison with a friend next year. They just better not start without me.