Plenty of video games in 2018 attempted to make cooperative play an integral part of the experience, but none were as successful as A Way Out. Developer Hazelight Studios and passionate director Josef Fares created something special with this co-op adventure, making a game that felt intensely intimate in spite of its required multiplayer format.
Indeed, the early sections of A Way Out are the perfect example of co-op play at its best. Taking on the role of either Vincent or Leo, players must work together to break out of prison, as the threads of a larger conspiracy plot start to come together. Equally impressive online or on the couch, these early sections are some of the best moments of gaming seen in 2018.
Where A Way Out truly finds success is with its careful understanding of how to build an engaging co-op adventure where both players feel as though they are active, vital participants. It's a game that isn't just arbitrarily played by two people, but one that requires coordination and organization between the two users. Throughout A Way Out, both Vincent and Leo can feel that they are contributing equally to the story, while the flexibility that Hazelight often gives players as to which player fulfills which role allows users to choose a path that suits them best.
It's not just the game's puzzles and emphasis on teamwork that works, though. A Way Out also includes enough breathing space to allow its players to have a bit of fun here and there. Although only a tiny part of the overall game, letting its players have fun with arm wrestling matches is a neat touch, breaking up the larger intensity of the plot as it gets progressively more action-heavy.
The slow move towards shooter mechanics might have come across as contrived, but A Way Out holds it together in part due to the connection that forms between the two main characters - and their players. Both Vincent and Leo feel well-defined, through both their individual stories being drip-fed over the course of the game and through the integration of character choices into the title at important moments. Players can then choose whose plan to follow, with neither Vincent nor Leo having a perfect option available.
After such a cooperative focus, the game's finale ends with a quite shocking switch-up of player expectations. It's one of the best moments of A Way Out, and one that no doubt will have led to a few awkward glances as the title reaches its conclusion. However, this potentially jarring change-up works extremely well, bringing out a competitive edge that has become natural to video game players over the years.
A Way Out isn't perfect - some of those shooting sections perhaps don't fit with how the game feels overall, and might go on for a little bit too long - but it's a bold project that paid off. It makes fantastic use of its require cooperative play, easily surpassing the other co-op games of 2018. Fares has always been an advocate of video games as art, and A Way Out is as good a way as any to make his point.