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According to IGN Video Games
“If people want to play a run ‘n’ gun game, they should play Gears of War or whatever. This is not that. This is better.”
Most games make a point of selling you on one core mechanical concept, the interactions you’ll hopefully be enjoying for 10, 50, 100 hours. Halo’s ‘gunfeel’, Bayonetta’s Witch Time, Mount Your Friends’, er, physics. Each one should feel good enough to keep you playing, no matter how repetitious it might actually be. A Way Out is almost stubbornly trying to do the exact opposite.
Every time Josef Fares, the game’s director, and I finish playing a section of his co-op narrative adventure game, he turns round, smiles and tells me that the game will never do that again. In half an hour of skipping between various scenes I’ve crept through a stealth section, gone spear fishing, taken part in a police chase, balanced on wheelchairs, button-mashed through 2D brawler combat, and played Connect Four. A single run-through’s aimed for 6-8 hours. There’s going to be a lot to do.
Fares has a neat term for how he created the interactive elements in his prison escape narrative: “finding gameplay”. Rather than creating a mechanic to build a story around, Fares and his team created a story, and then searched for the right ways to inject gampley into it. The result, he promises, is a game with truly cinematic pacing – peaks and troughs of action alongside dramatic storytelling – that constantly offers new ways to interact.
The game’s much talked-about visual approach – remaining almost constantly in a shifting split-screen view, even when playing with a friend online – is a gorgeous delivery method for that idea. An early section sees one player trying to calmly drive a car through a police barricade, while the other hides from view – so the game shrinks the hiding player’s view to a third of the screen, letting the driver see where they’re going, while communicating something of the claustrophobia of the situation to the other player.
The best scene I’ve played so far sees both lead characters escaping from a hospital. Here, the split-screen disappears entirely while a single shot follows Vincent and Leo in turn, the camera flying through air vents or down stairwells to keep up. By switching character, the game’s switching player too, each putting on a chase scene show for the other. It culminates (at least in the demo I played) in Leo fighting his way out of a corridor in a scene that directly references Oldboy’s famous single-shot fight. It’s a truly brilliant way to keep the tension of the scene flowing, all while giving both players something interesting to do.
While that moment’s critical to the story (and there are game over states for failing your actions), Fares promises many more one-off gameplay touches that you’ll only come across by exploring. Fares runs through a list of extra little experiences for those who want to spend the time looking: darts, arm wrestling, baseball and an arcade machine – “they’re all spread out,” he says “if you want to take a break and have a bit of fun.”
That wealth of different elements might have taken its toll a little in the animation department. Fares says the game has over 20,000 animations – more than some major AAA games, apparently. That’s partly down to Fares’ exacting approach to depicting both lead characters as distinctly different people.
While they’re definably different in their approach to escape – broadly, Vincent’s thoughtful and quiet, Leo’s impulsive and violent – the differences between them are more subtle, too. Both characters were mo-capped by different actors (in a strange touch, Leo’s appearance is based on Josef Fares’ brother, but Josef himself performed the mo-cap, making the character some weird Fares brother chimera), and each character can perform almost every action in the game, effectively doubling the number of animations.
“You can see why my animators love me,” says Fares sarcastically, with a look on his face that’s either joking smile or actual grimace. While it’s impressive as a commitment, parts of our demo see both characters’ movements looking fairly jerky and basic in the most freely playable moments, which detracts from the game’s usual cinematic quality somewhat.
But I feel almost churlish having a problem with that, when it’s clear how much A Way Out wants to offer. If that’s the price to pay for a game that actually offers you something new in every single scene, then I think I’ll end up happy to pay it.
Fares himself is bullish about his vision for the game. When I ask if he ever felt the need to include repeated action sequences to keep the archetypical gamer invested, he was… uncompromising: “If people want to play a run ‘n’ gun game, they should play Gears of War or whatever. This is not that. This is better.”
I’d be very happy for him to be proved right.
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