Will Prison game A Way Out Be A Truly Unique Experience?

EA’s prison game A Way Out is set to hit early next year. We saw at E3 that it looked different but is it actually any special? We take a closer look …

Announced back at this year’s E3 showing to the song of EA’s mega press conference, A Way Out is a game that went under the radar, given the upcoming rush of FIFA 18, Battlefront 2, Need for Speed: Payback and new IP Anthem.

In fact, rather aptly, the prison-escape co-op adventure broke away quietly from the pack. With a release date early next year, now seems like the right time to look at what we can expect from this title, dubbed as being a completely new multiplayer experience of unique proportions.

Firstly, this ‘unique’ aspect promised to us comes in the form of a design most developers would scoff at in today’s day and age of gaming. Choosing to focus on a pure co-operative style, A Way Out has no single player mode whatsoever. Every act of the game must be completed with a friend, either through local or online, and unlike most co-op games to date, there will be no ‘drop in-drop out’ system. This is extremely significant; they can certainly brag about being unique, given no big titles would ever consider having such limitations forced upon their playing audience. And who can blame them? In an age where online impatience dominates the lives of the gaming community, it’s hard to understand the thought process behind such an alienating decision.

Hard, yes. But not impossible.

The core appeal of A Way Out comes from this gamble, originating from the preferred focus towards emotional player connections and relationships with the characters rather than a ‘play to finish’ culture. The developers, Hazelight, want players to work together as much as they can to complement the narrative of the game, one that sees two convicted criminals attempt to escape prison and survive the outside world on the run. Given how difficult such a task would be to carry out, it makes sense that the players should complete the entire game as a journey, rather than dropping in or out, as only then would they be able to appreciate the minutiae of character relationships and co-operative problem solving.

Speaking of problem solving, the design of A Way Out is one that relies very heavily on player teamwork and collusion, encouraging equal dependency in completing the necessary steps to further the plan. There is no ‘right way’ of approaching each scenario – some players may wish to get aggressive and assault guards for disguises. Others may play it through the shadows, hiding tools and escape routes until the perfect time, whilst others still might decide to chat with the abundant supply of NPC inmates to incite help for their cause. It’s easy to see why Hazelight wanted a consistent co-op experience; not only would a ‘drop in-drop out’ system cause confusion in carrying out steps of a plan, but it would also mean the players would lose the emotional attachment of their journey and narrative so far.

But what about a solo story, you may ask? Why would you want to leave that out? Well, in much the same vein, Hazelight wanted this to be purely unique in design. Enabling a solo story might allow more players to play the game, but it also devalues the core co-operative experience. How many players are going to wait for the right opportunities to play with friends or family when they can just jump in by themselves? Not many. On the flip side, without a solo mode, A Way Out immediately becomes an enigma, an experience that will draw the curiosity of gamers far and wide. A prison escape narrative is already intense and filled with endless possibilities, so couple that with the requirement for two creative minds tackling the situation and you open up a whole new can of worms.

The nature of player decisions and planning also means A Way Out has large scale replayability. As said before, there is no right or wrong way of approaching the narrative. Well, unless you get caught, which I suppose is pretty wrong. But still. Replayability is a core factor in games of today, and with the potential to switch up decisions and approaches for latter playthroughs, A Way Out has this issue covered pretty well. It also aims to make sure players are never locked in place – if, for example, you decide you’d be better off distracting the guard instead of your friend, you can switch this at the last second, or even swing by to help. One of the coolest aspects in this is freedom of cutscenes, a fancy way of saying that whilst one player may be experiencing a cutscene, the other can still be off controlling their character, potentially influencing the outcome of the cinematic itself.

Whilst A Way Out is still some way off, the hype for such a curious game is certainly rising. The nature of a pure co-operative story driven game is a strange one, and certainly a gamble for EA, but if the marketing and player interest is a marker, it seems like it may pay off. So prepare yourself. Make sure the getaway vehicle has gas. Don those disguises. Start the riot. It’s time to escape from prison. With your best friend, of course.

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