A screenshot of the characters from A Way Out.

Couch co-op busts out of video game prison with A Way Out

© Hazelight

A Way Out creator Josef Fares talks co-op, creative freedom and just why he dissed the Oscars.

Some things go out of fashion for a reason. It’s unlikely that many people are pining over the demise of flash mobs, planking or the mannequin challenge. Yet sometimes, something brilliant inexplicably becomes lost with the passage of time. For many gamers, that forgotten joy is the couch co-op experience.

Sure, there are still instances of couch multiplayer, but the days of spending hours, sat nervously side-by-side with a friend as you work together to bring down hordes of zombies in Left for Dead, or punch your way through the Streets of Rage, or blast through Perfect Dark, increasingly seem to be a thing of the past. Until now, that is.

Hazelight’s A Way Out has been getting noticed for bringing the couch co-op game back to our screens with a bang, offering a unique split-screen experience tailor made to be enjoyed with a chum. We spoke with its creator, Josef Fares, who told us about the game’s origins, and just why A Way Out had to be a co-op experience:

“A Way Out came to me around 2014. The idea started when me and my friend tried to find a co-op game that wasn’t just drop in, drop out, and this became A Way Out.”

The game has been in production ever since and from what we’ve seen so far, the time has been well spent. A Way Out follows two prisoners – Leo and Vincent – as they attempt to bust out of prison and face the consequences outside the walls of the institution. Incorporating stealth, punch-ups, shootouts and vehicular mayhem, A Way Out runs the action gamut. What’s even more impressive is that the game tells two stories at once, with the use of an ever-shifting split screen. For Fares, this was the greatest challenge, but one Hazelight couldn’t avoid:

“The idea with having split-screen both in couch and online, is because that’s how the story is told – there wouldn’t be any other way to tell this story. That was also the hardest thing with A Way Out – how to tell two stories at the same time, in split-screen.”

In fact, this dedication to providing a pure co-op experience has led to an almost unheard-of act of generosity from Hazelight: The Friends Pass. The Friends Pass means that, if two players are eager to team up and take on A Way Out (online or couch co-op), only one needs to actually own the game. This may leave you scratching your head, and with good reason – publishers aren’t usually prone to giving games away for free. Fares explains the logic behind the decision:

Watch the official reveal trailer for A Way Out:

“For me this [the Friends Pass] makes sense. The idea came very early. Because if you play A Way Out on the couch, you only buy one copy. It doesn’t make sense that if you’re playing online you have to buy two, because it’s the same experience. I don’t know if we’re going to sell less or more because of that, and I don’t really care, to be honest! I just think that it makes sense that it should be this way.”

What makes this decision even more surprising is the fact that the game is part of the EA Originals program, which funds indie developers and helps them bring their games to life. While it may seem unlikely that EA would sign off on such an idea, Fares tells us that the relationship has been incredibly supportive, and describes the program as “perfect”.

For outsiders looking in, the idea of Fares teaming with a corporate behemoth like EA may be surprising, having earned himself a reputation as a passionate, outspoken and sometimes controversial voice in the video-games industry. He’s adamant, however, that the program didn’t quash his creative impulses.

“[Creative freedom] is important because we work with art. It’s also important to understand that there’s a financial aspect of everything, and that both sides have to meet. But creative control will be something that Hazelight will always have in all of our games, guaranteed.”

A promotional image for A Way Out.
Time for a prison break in A Way Out

And games as art is a subject Fares clearly takes to heart. His passionately worded and enjoyably profane speech at The Game Awards 2017 gained notoriety after he aired his views on the Oscars. According to Fares, the argument stems from his frustration that gaming as a medium still isn’t getting the respect it deserves.

“What happened is that people were comparing the Game Awards to the Oscars, and I was tired of it,” he says. “I sometimes think that games are not getting the attention and respect they should get, because even today people are asking this really stupid question – are games art? I absolutely believe that games should be treated the same way as any other medium.”

He adds, “Of course there’s some bad stuff, but that’s the same as movies. Games should be treated the same way as any other medium – books, TV or movies – not as worse, or better. But this is getting better, and I’m optimistic.”

And while A Way Out, and games in a wider sense, don’t need to be compared with other mediums, the game’s prison-break setting will likely be familiar to anybody with even a passing knowledge of pop culture. According to Fares, inspiration came from multiple sources, from the Shawshank Redemption, to the output of fellow game developers Naughty Dog. This leads us onto gaming influences, and while there are many classic couch co-ops to pull from, Fares’s inspiration is a little more contemporary:

“The best inspiration was the Portal 2 campaign, because that was something where you really have to cooperate to continue throughout the game.”

Indeed, the level of coordination required between players in A Way Out – everything from guard distraction to leg-ups are a necessity to progress – means that the game is breaking new ground. Fares adds, “There wasn’t something similar to A Way Out that we could take inspiration from, so we were kind of on uncharted ground. But that’s also the fun about making games – making something new and different.”

A screenshot showing the vehicles in A Way Out.
In the thick of the action in A Way Out

As for the setting of A Way Out, Fares explains that, partly, the choice was down to the fact that prisons are getting short shrift in video games. He says, “The reason the prison is in the game is they are under-used in games. It’s normally push a button and you’re out, and I think it’s an interesting environment, especially to connect two players and have them escape together.”

That said, Fares is eager to state that the game extends beyond the high walls of the prison yard, stressing that while A Way Out does concern the much-publicised break-out, there’s a lot more to the game than that. As for what that entails, we may have to wait and see. But one thing’s for sure: you’re gonna need a comfy couch.

A Way Out is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on March 23, 2018.

Be sure to download the free Red Bull TV app and catch the games content on all your devices! Get the app here