Connect with us
A Way Out Review A Way Out Review

Game Reviews

‘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.

Published

on

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

Published

on

Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

Published

on

Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy

There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.

Published

on

Remothered: Tormented Fathers Review

It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.

Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.

Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.

There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.

While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.

Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.

It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.

As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.

Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.

It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.

There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending