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A Way Out Review – The Shawshank Redemption Split-Screen Experience

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A while back, I lamented the decline of split-screen gaming and the shared experience those games provided. Flash-forward to a few months ago, a friend showed me a trailer for A Way Out, a game being developed by Hazelight Studios which was built around those memories of split-screen gaming. Split-screen gaming is at the core of the game’s unique narrative approach so much that it cannot be played alone. As you can imagine, the opportunity to experience a new take on split-screen gaming was not one I was willing to pass up.

As I mentioned, A Way Out cannot be played alone and must be played with a partner. The game follows prison inmates Vincent Moretti and Leo Caruso. The two meet in prison where Vincent has just arrived to start serving time for the murder of his brother, a crime he claims to have not committed, while Leo is serving a sentence for a jewel heist that did not work out. Leo is brash and hot-headed, while Vincent is more cautious and will try to talk his way out of situations. Before long, the too connect over a shared hatred of the same gangster responsible for their incarcerations and set out to escape prison and hunt him down. Players need to work together, both in prison and outside, to solve challenges throughout the game. For instance, at one point, Vincent might need to watch and distract the guards as Leo chisels a way out of his cell. Later on, Leo might need to sneak a concealed Vincent past a guard so Vincent can unlock a door so the two of them can solve a puzzle together. While most situations have a single solution, some places give players the choice between a brash action offered by Leo or a more level-headed choice by Vincent. Does your duo steal a car or do you try to sneak by the police? Do you knock out a guard or try to talk your way out of a problem? Do those choices ultimately matter? Probably not, but they work to further develop the different personalities of the game’s protagonists.

Vincent and Leo are the core of A Way Out and, as you can imagine, receive the most attention and character development. The way that the two protagonists with clashing personalities are forced to work together to achieve the same goal is one of the best parts of the game's story. You get to learn more about them and their backstories as the game progresses and sends players on detours to explore their lives. Players get to see Leo’s single-minded toughness peeled away when he visits his wife and son, and Vincent’s gruffness is softened when he interacts with his wife. At the same time, it also shines a light on the lack of depth of the supporting cast. Pretty much every supporting character, even the game’s antagonist, can be summarized by a handful of words. While I can brush off some of it, the brief interactions with the characters’ families felt a bit too jarring. Both characters face conflicts when visiting their families, but the game is too quick to resolve those issues, using them only to develop the protagonists rather than really adding anything to the supporting cast. Over the course of the game’s narrative, you get the definite feeling that Vincent and Leo create a strong bond, but the interactions with their families are so rushed, you don’t really get that same feeling from them.

Most of the game occurs in vertical split-screen, so players can look over and see what their partner is doing at any time. While not especially original on its own, A Way Out adds its own unique spin to the split-screen experience to tell its story. One player might be in the middle of a cutscene or conversation while the other is able to run around freely, playing mini-games or solving puzzles. At one point, Vincent needs to sneak a wrench to Leo who must then hide it while prison guards search Vincent’s cell. The player controlling Vincent is stuck in a cutscene, unable to do anything, while the player controlling Leo has a short time to solve the puzzle. During especially important conversations, the game will expand the relevant character’s screen, but for the most part, the game sticks to the split-screen format.

If you’re picking up cues that the A Way Out might be heavy on the dialogue and narrative, but light on the action, you’re not too far off from the truth. A Way Out was directed by film director Josef Fares, and that cinematic background comes through very strongly, so much so that the friend I played with remarked on multiple occasions that the game would make for a great movie or mini-series. Yes, there are puzzles and action sequences, but the game is largely built around its narrative with those pieces scattered throughout. For the most part, players will spend their time wandering around, looking for tools and solutions, and moving from one objective to the next. The action takes the form of fist-fights, car chases, and even gun-fights. That said, don’t expect any phenomenal mechanics from any of those segments. Take the gun-fight sequences. By most standards, the shooting mechanics are pretty bare-bones, letting players aim, shoot, and reload. The enemy AI is fairly simple and won’t give players any real trouble. But, those shooting segments work to serve as an obstacle that must be overcome before moving to the next narrative segment. As long as you go into these sections with that in mind, these pieces are good-enough to be passable, while not detracting too much from the game’s overall experience.

Given that the game cannot be played alone, there are two approaches to playing A Way Out. The first is to rely on the game’s built in matchmaking. I will be upfront with you all, I have no idea how this works, but I imagine it matches players based on progress through the major checkpoints. However, I don't think it is a stretch to say that this game is meant to be played with someone you know. A large part of my enjoyment came from joking around with my friend, working together to solve the puzzles, and competing during the game’s various mini-games. I cannot imagine I would have had the same experience if I had played the game with random strangers online. Ideally, I think the game would play even better if both players were sharing the same couch, but online worked fine for us. Now, a game that can only be played with another player might seem like a cheap way to boost sales, but Hazelight made it so two players only need one copy to play together. One player just needs to download the demo, and then the person with the purchased copy can start a session and send them an invitation to join. It is a fairly simple and seamless process -- we played on PS4, but I imagine the process is similar on other platforms.

There’s no doubt that A Way Out has its share of flaws, but as a split-screen co-op experience, it is a fun journey to share with a friend. Halfway through the game, my friend and I were both expecting the revelation that Leo would be the one who killed Vincent’s brother, breaking the bond between the two. Although that twist did not occur, the way the game frames the final chapter works wonders to change the tone after the experience it spent the past few hours building. A Way Out is a game about the friendship that develops between Vincent and Leo. While it is not necessary to play the game with a friend, I feel confident that sharing that experience with someone you know, either online or on the same couch, makes for a far better experience.
“...some birds aren’t meant to be caged.”~ Red

All images owned by Hazelight Studios.


  1. Zetanio -
    Zetanio's Avatar
    I thought you were writing a very delayed view of Shawshank Redemption.

    This is disappointing.