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‘A Way Out’: A Unique Co-Op Experience That Falls Frustratingly Flat

Playable only in co-op, A Way Out is certainly one of 2018’s most intriguing titles. But does it live up to the pre-release hype? Check out Goomba Stomp’s (belated) review and find out.



A Way Out Review

A couple of weeks ago, with launch day looming ever nearer, I wrote an article explaining why I was so excited for Josef Fares’ latest project: A Way Out.

To put it briefly, I was intrigued by the game’s unyielding emphasis on cooperative play, particularly as it is very much a narrative-driven experience, while the promise of diverse gameplay elements and an extremely generous release model which allowed two people to share a single physical copy left me eager to try it for myself. But once the initial wave of novelty and excitement wore off following the game’s short prologue, I was left somewhat disappointed.

A Way Out isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination and I largely enjoyed my time with it. However, the not-infrequent moments of brilliance and originality lie within a rather prosaic framework.

Taken as a whole, A Way Out is an entertaining and largely unique experience unlike anything else currently on the market.

A Way Out ReviewA Way Out begins with joint protagonist Vincent Moretti arriving at an unnamed American prison in the early 1970’s having been recently convicted of the murder of his brother. Resigned to his fate, despite protestations of his innocence, he quickly strikes up an uneasy partnership with fellow leading man Leo Caruso; their alliance based initially on a mutual desire to escape and exact payback on the man who, coincidentally, put both men behind bars: Harvey.

Hatching a ludicrously simple yet surprisingly effective plan that bears more than a passing resemblance to titles such as The Shawshank Redemption, the pair successfully find ‘a way out’ (sorry) of their predicament and, after managing to avoid the forces sent to take them back, start plotting their revenge.

Overall, the story is well-paced. Gradually revealing additional levels of depth as it progresses and finding the perfect balance between action, in the form of various quick time events and semi-interactive set-pieces a la Uncharted, and quieter moments of contemplation; ultimately building towards a tremendously satisfying and appropriately bittersweet climax. But, as I alluded to in my brief synopsis above, the problem is it’s all a bit cliché.

From the pair’s simplistic escape plan which involves nothing more taxing than unscrewing a couple of bolts and skulking through the prison’s generously proportioned bowels, through to paying a risky visit to their loved ones whilst on the lamb, the game’s main story beats feel disappointingly familiar. Even when there’s a choice to be made between two seemingly different courses of action, the eventual outcome is predictable, strongly suggesting the game is merely following a pre-destined course that, despite the illusion of choice provided by these sections, has a very clear goal in mind.

What I would say at this stage is that Fares has far more success with the portrayal of protagonists Vincent and Leo. Though neither are without their flaws, usually as a result of A Way Out’s inconsistent dialogue, both are complex, interesting characters in their own right.

Vincent’s habitual stoicism provides a welcome change from the traditional archetype of the wrongly-accused anti-hero whose unquenchable thirst for vengeance ends up clouding their judgement; turning them into the very person they despise. While Leo’s unapologetically phlegmatic attitude towards his criminal past, combined with his own brand of antagonistic humour, makes it difficult not to like him.

Of greater importance, however, is the pair’s chemistry. Their bond develops organically over time as they learn more about one another, steadily evolving into a burgeoning friendship over the course of the game that keeps the player invested in the all-too formulaic story right to the bitter end.

And the authenticity of this bond cannot be underestimated, given that their relationship and the overarching story itself take precedence over pure mechanical enjoyment.

A prime example of ‘A Way Out’s frantic, if sporadic, chase sequences

Quick time events are the order of the day and comprise the overwhelming majority of the action. At first glance, the sheer variety seems impressive. Traditional QTEs that ask players to simply follow the on-screen prompts sit side by side with more nuanced, co-op orientated challenges: climbing an unusually broad, vertical ventilation shaft, for example, or navigating a rapidly-moving river. In other words, tasks that necessitate careful coordination.

Look a little deeper, and it’s true these moments are much of a muchness, and don’t quite live up to Fares’ pre-release promise that A Way Out would “open up a huge variety of gameplay… to avoid repetition so they (the players) will get to know the characters through very different situations”. In A Way Out’s case, however, this lack of complexity isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it suits this style of game perfectly.

Similar as they are, these quick time events are designed to be simple in execution, allowing Fares to focus on the story and characters. They’re brief, moderately entertaining bursts of interactivity that punctuate the heavier expository scenes to keep the players’ attention firmly fixed on the ebb and flow of the narrative, without hindering the steady pace – and the same goes for A Way Out’s rudimentary stealth and combat mechanics, too.

That being the case, in A Way Out, entertainment comes not from completing these elementary challenges, but from coordinating with and navigating the disparate gameplay scenarios with your partner. Synchronising your respective roles during a specific task and seeing it completed successfully is a hugely satisfying experience, giving both players a sense of accomplishment completely disproportionate to the actual difficulty of the task. While, even though the consequences of selecting one option over another don’t always differ all that much, the process of discussing the pros and cons of each choice really does help both players immerse themselves in the story, enabling them to better understand their chosen character in turn.

My only major criticism in this regard is the sheer number of unnecessary distractions that pervade the game. For a narrative-driven experience, I felt some of the minigames and bland NPC interactions were superfluous, serving only to artificially extend A Way Out’s overall runtime, and could have been substituted for a impromptu conversatoins between Leo and Vincent that reveal more about their personal histories. I appreciate they’re optional; no one forced me to spend fifteen minutes trying out the full range of available prison yard exercises before triggering the next major sequence. Yet, it’s difficult to ignore them completely. We humans are a curious breed, after all, and with so many trophies and tasty little Easter eggs hidden throughout most modern games, it’s hard to resist the temptation to explore.

Thankfully, there are no real issues to speak of in terms of performance.

My brother and I played through the entire game online – me using the PS4 hard copy, he as my guest via Friends Pass – and had literally zero issues with latency: the game ran smoothly from start to finish without so much as a stutter during the more action-packed scenes. We didn’t have any problems setting up an online connection and, now that I think of it, we didn’t encounter a single glitch during our entire playthrough.

One of the game’s more picturesque and cinematic scenes

However, I do have a couple of gripes with the presentation. Firstly, the split-screen setup did make it difficult to concentrate on and absorb everything happening on screen when two separate perspectives are being provided; and that isn’t always easy. I found it particularly difficult to digest what Leo and Linda were saying to one another during their heart-to-heart roughly halfway through the game, for example, while I, as Vincent, was tasked with keeping their son Alex occupied with a spot of one-on-one basketball.

Likewise, I can’t say I was overly struck by A Way Out’s visual style. From the earlier trailers, I was expecting its muted colour palette and lightly-stylised aesthetics to capture the feel of prison life in 1970’s America. But in the event, everything looks a bit rough around the edges, particularly during close up shots when the relatively basic animation exposes the lack of expression on the character’s lifeless faces, utterly failing to convey the range of emotions exhibited by the actors. Some of the environments are quite picturesque, it’s only fair to say; particularly in the more rural areas. But, on the flip side, Ifound the NPCs and some of the urban environments tended to merge into one, homogenous mass of generic assets.

Taken as a whole, A Way Out is an entertaining and largely unique experience unlike anything else currently on the market. But it’s conceptual brilliance is let down by some artistic failings.

Whether due to budgetary constraints or an unforgiving deadline, the story fails to provide the kind of originality and intrigue I was expecting from those early trailers, while the demands of modern game design result in the inclusion of pointless filler that commandeers time and resources that would have been better spent shoring up the game’s visuals and animation.

As such, it only partially does what Fares intended it to do. It proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt that exclusively cooperative experiences are a perfectly viable form of game design, without necessarily commending it as a must-play to mainstream audiences or challenging the supremacy of traditional single or multi-player games.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Martin Henebury

    April 9, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    Well-constructed review; more aesthetically-appreciative than that of Gamespot.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.



AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.



Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.



Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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