There's one scene in A Way Out that operates as a continuous tracking shot, seamlessly following two convicts as they tear through the interior of a large hospital, leaping over gurneys and slinking through air vents with a cadre of police officers hot on their tails. It's the only moment the screen isn't bisected -- the rest of the game plays out completely in split-screen co-op, either local or online.
This singular moment of unity doesn't exactly turn A Way Out into a traditional single-player game. The action flows between Leo and Vincent, the game's protagonists, putting one player in charge of the scene before passing control to the other, and back again. Both players see the same screen, but only one person directs it at a time, deciding whether Leo and Vincent make it out of the hospital alive. Even when A Way Out looks like a standard game, it isn't.
"This is not a game where you level up or something," says director Josef Fares. "We need the players to be there all the time, talking with each other all the time and being in the moment, like, 'What the fuck is going on?'"
Fares really, really wants people to play A Way Out together in-person, sitting side-by-side on a couch and truly sharing the experience. This emotional connection is crucial -- because while A Way Out looks like an action-heavy, prison-break game featuring guns, crime, violence and hardened criminals, Fares promises there's soul behind this tough facade.
"There's a lot of heart in this," he says.
It's not surprising that A Way Out is founded on a deep emotional reservoir, considering the team's debut game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Brothers is a heart-wrenching adventure about two young men on a quest to cure their father's illness, forcing one player to control both characters with a single gamepad in order to solve puzzles and traverse dangerous lands. It came out in 2013 to widespread acclaim, and A Way Out feels like a natural evolution of this creative, sentimental aesthetic. It feels like Brothers grew up.
"All decisions that are made on A Way Out are based on the heart," Fares says. "Even if someone tells me me, like, 'If you do this you will sell 1 million copies more,' my answer is 'Fuck you.' Look at me, I don't have scripts and nobody tells me what to say. I say what I want to say. Passion is what drives this. That's why it's been great working with EA. They don't tell us do this, do that. We decide what comes in, what goes out of the game."
EA is publishing A Way Out via its Originals program, and the company showcased the game at its big E3 press conference in Los Angeles, putting Fares center-stage.
Fares takes his role as a leader at his studio, Hazelight, to heart. He's the founder, writer and director at Hazelight, and for A Way Out, he's even the person in the motion-capture suit. Leo's movements in-game are Fares himself, whether he's running, leaping, ducking, shooting a gun or drinking a beer. Vincent's mo-cap was done by Oscar Wolontis, Hazelight's production coordinator. In terms of appearance, Fares' brother serves as the model for Leo, the more trigger-happy of the two convicts.
It's still rare for smaller, independent studios to use motion-capture technology, though it isn't unheard of. For example, the powerful adventure game 1979 Revolution: Black Friday recently employed mo-cap to resounding critical and consumer success. A Way Out's animations are reminiscent of 1979, in fact. This doesn't mean the game's graphics are perfectly polished and the animations always smooth (1979 doesn't quite reach this goal, either) -- A Way Out is due to hit PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC in early 2018, so developers are still tweaking its systems. But, there's only so much they can do.
"You want the honest truth? This machine is not so strong as you think," Fares says, pointing to the PS4 running his game. "This is like a five-year-old PC. If consoles were as powerful as PCs are today, you would see all different games. Most of the work developers put out there is to make them work on consoles."
A Way Out is a passion project for Fares. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he talks about the game's split-screen control scheme and its surprisingly emotional story. Though A Way Out is reminiscent of his previous project, Brothers, in a few ways -- it stars two men and features a twist on a classic control scheme -- Fares says it's a completely different beast.
"We can't be categorized," he says. "It's about whatever makes us, our heart go, that's what we're going to do. There's no one-trick-pony or anything like that. I'm telling you, this game is going to be even better than Brothers, and the next game is going to be even better than that."
Fares is endlessly excited for people to discover another way to play video games together, as a shared yet wholly unique experience -- ideally, while they're sitting side-by-side on the couch.
"I believe you can make a big, AAA, big-budget title with innovative, different stuff," he says. "You just have to have the right person who believes in something. If you have a vision and a passion, nothing can stop you."