Cool-Ops is a segment of GameGulp where we take a co-op/multiplayer game, play it, and give our opinions the way these games were meant to be reviewed: together.
Some games like to tie in their co-op features like a pack of last minute Trail Mix before a hike. While it does provide an extra snack during the journey, it doesn't fill your tummy as much as beef jerky or a fully stuffed turkey does. Bad analogies aside, what we mean to say is a lot of cooperative-enabled games give you the option to play co-op, rather than make it a requirement.
A Way Out is not that kind of game. Created by Hazelight Studios and published by EA for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, the title stars Leo and Vincent, two criminals locked in the same prison who are as likely to get along as a vegan and a starving wolverine. Two players take on the role of these supposed bad guys (either online or locally via split screen) as they try to survive prison food, dropping the soap, and eventually find a way to bust out.
This is usually the part where we say we played the game together for posterity's sake, but this time there simply is no other way to do this solo. So here we go...
Stef Atega: I played the role of Vincent, a guy who recently got convicted and is about to serve 14 years of jail time.
Carlos Zotomayor: ... and I played Leo - the big-nosed inmate who already served six months of his sentence but isn't planning on spending another second in prison. While at first glance the two don't have very different interactions with the world, it becomes apparent that their backgrounds play a big part in how they work both together and apart.
Stef: Yep, that's because the two have very different approaches to situations. Vincent is the more rational of the two and is more likely to think of solutions that won't get them in trouble. Leo meanwhile, is the tough guy who likes to solve things with his fists.
Zoto: There are situations which let you choose either Leo's or Vincent's option, but they don't really impact the story as a whole. Speaking of story, this is the biggest draw of A Way Out. It has so-so graphics and the gameplay is nothing to write home about, but the way the story is told makes it so it only works in a video game.
Stef: Before we get to the story...I wouldn't say the gameplay is so-so. It does require the cooperation of both players, meaning both players will not be able to progress if one of them dicks around. It requires coordination as well: sometimes you'll need to throw your weights against the door at the same time or take down two guards simultaneously. I screwed up a few times, but there are other times you just messed up on purpose!
Zoto: Because it's funny! Seeing these two inmates repeat dialogue like mindless robots is a hoot. There was one time you inspected a door as Vincent and mentioned that we needed a way to break a lock, whereupon I took a look as Leo and exclaimed the door was locked. Though it tackles serious themes, the game can be hilarious at times and I love it.
Stef: Well, there are some situations that were really developed for laughs. Remember that time we had to catch fish? My job was to catch fish with a spear, while yours was to splash the water for them to swim towards me. Of course, you did the opposite. There was also that awkward moment wherein we both sat on opposite ends of a seesaw. So yeah, while the story is pretty serious, the game also had plenty of light-hearted moments.
Zoto: ... not all of which are in prison. Contrary to its namesake, A Way Out doesn't take place solely in prison. While it does start in the hoosegow, this only serves as a tutorial level before letting Leo and Vincent escape and get their vengeance on the person who wronged them.
Stef: Apparently they were both screwed over by the same person, which starts their quest in the first place. Their journey features a variety of locations. Apart from prison, there's also a construction site, a farm, and a hospital. All of these places provide unique situations for both characters, which make every level feel different from the last.
Zoto: Even though you still do the same "hold-button-while-waiting-for-your-partner" scenarios, they're all within the context of what is going on at the moment. By the game's final hours, you get into this groove of teamwork which reflects the evolution of Leo and Vincent's relationship.
Stef: That's where the bulk of the game's strength lies: in their bromance. As the story progresses, you'll see the bond between the two deepen. Vincent plays a game of basketball with Leo's son, while Leo gives Vincent relationship advice. Coincidentally, Zoto and I were both invested in the characters we played. I embodied the cool-headed Vincent, while Zoto embraced Leo's brawny tendencies.
Zoto: The game makes it so you have to rely on each other, both gameplay and story-wise. As you experience the downtime between those high-action moments, you learn that there is more to Vincent than the stick up his ass. At the same time, you see Leo as a father and how he strives to put his family first in his life of crime. You end up hoping these two get their revenge and make it out alive... which is all the more shocking once the game's finale kicks in.
Stef: The finale was the real kicker because it not only revealed a shocking twist, but also a change in gameplay. We don't want to spoil it, but it's something that definitely makes A Way Out such a memorable game.
Zoto: Still, it isn't perfect. The graphics felt last generation to me and the gunplay (yes, there is gunplay) is as clunky as Vincent's overweight walking animation. There was a lot of effort put into making the game's story work, but I think they stumbled when it came to polishing other aspects.
Stef: The driving mechanics weren't as smooth as well. I should know, I did most of the driving.
Zoto: WHICH I DEEPLY REGRET! If you have a partner who isn't a good driver, let him/ her be Leo instead. I can't remember how many times we failed because you didn't pass your driver's exam. Even if you mess up though, the game's checkpoint system is very forgiving.
Stef: That's true, which makes the game relatively easy unless your player two refuses to cooperate. Those lapses you pointed out can be forgiven though. Overall, I think people should experience A Way Out. It plays very much like a movie with interactive features (which makes sense since the director is a filmmaker himself).
Zoto: And the best part is you only need one copy of the game to play it! The cheapskate only has to download the demo and wait for an invite from the poor sucker who bought it. Unlike other co-op games, you can only partner up with someone from your friends list; which means no random players without microphones.
Stef: And we both know who the cheapskate here is. Anyway, I can't seem to a find A Way Out of this segment. Can you think of a better segue?
Zoto: Sure. Just let me drop the soap.