EA's 'A Way Out' Might Be Something Special

EA's 'A Way Out' Might Be Something Special

EA / Hazelight

The 2013 puzzler 'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons' was one of the best games of its generation. Now it’s creator is back with something more ambitious.

The 2013 puzzler 'Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons' was one of the best games of its generation. Now it’s creator is back with something more ambitious.

Josef Fares is intense. Struggling to be heard over the bass-heavy din of EA’s pre-E3 event in Hollywood, he more than once seemed irritated, anxious to get his points across as I fumble my way through a scene from his new game – the prison-escape, odd couple, co-op-only A Way Out.

Fares is most well known for his award-winning and beautifully constructed 2013 fairytale puzzle-adventure game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It was, incredibly, his very first video game project, having come from the world of indie filmmaking. In Brothers, his knack for building an emotional connection to his characters and his flair for visual storytelling – the game had no dialogue – propelled what could have easily been a trifle of a game to near classic status. The clever decision to build the entire game around collaboration – by assigning the game controller’s left stick to one brother, and the right stick to the other – while requiring you to control both brothers at the same time was as brilliant as it was simple. Now, A Way Out, the first game from Fares' Hazelight studio, is taking that theme and (sometimes literally) running with it.

Instead of brothers, two convicts – Vincent and Leo. Instead of a fairytale land of giants and castles, the sun-bleached gas stations and prison yards of 1970s America. And instead of one controller to control both characters, a split-screen where you control one character, and a friend controls the other.

Fares sets the scene for the demo: Myself and my couch buddy must rob a gas station. First we have to decide which of us gets the single gun we share, which precipitates a short Tarantino-esque moment of dialogue that conveys just how little affection we have for one another. Then we have to find ways to empty the store of bystanders, if we can, before holding the teller up at gunpoint. But there’s a snag – the money’s in the safe, and we don’t have the combination. While I’m dealing with the manager in the backroom, my teammate tries to convince the teller to cough up the code before going outside to run around in circles like an idiot – simply because he can. Fares looks on, exasperated. At this, the screen splits again into a third panel, showing the teller’s perspective. When I eventually enter the code for the safe, the camera zooms into the combination lock while my panel grows to take up more than half the screen. The effect is a living storyboard that pays homage to any number of TV shows and movies – from 24 to the Sixties Steve McQueen movie, Bullitt. The camera behaves as if aware of what’s happening on screen, but you don’t feel constrained by it.

To Fares' obvious relief, we eventually rob the place and make our getaway, squealing out of the gas station in our stolen car just as a cop screeches in, the camera taking control in a seamless glide. In a moment that recalls another film from an era closer to the game’s own – Clint Eastwood’s 1974 road movie Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (and countless hours of The Dukes of Hazard, come to think of it) the cop swerves to avoid us and ploughs headlong into a dumpster. All that’s missing is a “yee-haw” as we peel away.

Fares, worried that we might not be sufficiently impressed (we are) drags his laptop onto the coffee table and hastily plays us a video from another scene. It opens with our convicts separated – in split-screen mode – inside a hospital. As the police pull up outside, Vincent and Leo scramble to escape, booking it down corridors, over crash carts, barreling through doors. What marks this out from the gas station scene is that the camera is only following one character at a time, full-screen. Fares is at pains to explain that what we’re seeing is a single, uninterrupted shot, with the camera switching between Vincent and Leo not by cutting but by swerving down ventilation shafts and through doorways to meet them as they follow their separate paths to an exit. Vincent crashes through a doorway and the camera leaves him to race down a corridor, rounding a corner just as Leo flies by. The whole thing is meticulously choreographed, with control handed back and forth between the two players as the scene unfolds.

The director is clearly having fun with the medium, delivering the kind of shots that would be impossible to film on a set. The video ends just as Leo tumbles out of a laundry chute into the hospital basement, the camera switching to a side view in a nod to scrolling arcade beat'em-ups like Double Dragon. Fares jabs at the screen to stop it, closes the laptop and gives us a searching glare, as if to satisfy himself that we’ve gotten it – that we get what he’s trying to do here. We assure him that we do. He waits a half second and then smiles.