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A Way Out blew us away at E3, but can the devs keep pace with their own ambition?

Massive undertaking by the creators of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

One of a very few surprises at this year’s E3 was the announcement of A Way Out, a two-player cooperative game set in the early 1970s. Published by Electronic Arts, it’s being developed by Hazelight Studios, the team best known for the hit game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. After the splashy reveal trailer, which you can watch above, I got the chance to sit down with writer and director Josef Fares.

I can safely say that of all the interviews I did last week in Los Angeles, there was no one more amped up about their own project than he was. It was day zero of the convention and his voice was already starting to go.

“I have no doubt in my mind that when you play this from the beginning to the end that you will experience something like you’ve never experienced before,” Fares told me after a private, hands-on demo. “I guarantee a co-op game like never before and if I’m wrong, you can come to my home and break every bone in my body.”

Fares has every right to be bold. His team’s trailer turned a lot of heads, but the project feels incredibly ambitious for a studio of only 35 people.

A Way Out requires two players and, while it will ship with an online mode, it is designed from the ground up for couch co-op. Each player will take the role of a convicted felon and job one will be breaking out of prison. What follows is a cross-country journey that Fares promises will be an emotional tour de force with unique gameplay around every corner.

the two brothers in A Way Out standing in a prison yard at night in the rain
A Way Out’s main characters Leo and Vincent. Fares does the motion capture work personally, including fight scenes and other stunts.
Image: Hazelight Studios/Electronic Arts

“Every day I come into the office and I say to my team, ‘Let’s fuck shit up. Let’s fuck things up. Let’s fuck it up!’” Fares said. “We throw away the first and the second idea. I want to push them. I think we’re breaking some kind of world record with how much game you can do with this little money.”

Fares says that no two scenes in the game will use the same gameplay mechanics, or the same animations. A short gun battle with the cops done in third-person? You play that once. An acrobatic tumble down a ventilation shaft? Once. A holdup at a gas station? Once. A minute-long hand-to-hand fight down a side scrolling corridor? They’re all one-time events.

It all feels extravagant, almost wasteful. But hand-crafting each scene is Hazelight’s way of doing things their own way and no one, Fares said, is going to tell him to do things differently.

“It took three months to make the gas station scene you just played. Three months for that!” Fares said. “There’s over 300 animations for one minute, a scene that only one of the players will experience. It’s a nightmare for my developers. My team asks me, ‘Why don’t you reuse this?’ I say, ‘No.’

“It’s almost like having sex. Do you want to have one really good sexual encounter or a hundred lame ones? That’s the thing. It needs to be like when you’re feeling it like that. ... And when you do the same things 10 or 20 times [in a game] it takes away the experience of it.”

But it’s not just the gameplay itself that jumps out. It’s the way it all comes together cinematically. At times the screen has both players on it at the same time. Then it goes split-screen, based either on the storyline or the actions of the players. Then it transitions between the two players, highlighting the action for one while the other can take a rest. It evokes the feeling of reading a comic book, but also of experiencing a modern, cinematic fight-scene in a motion picture.

Little is known about the main character’s motivations, but Fares told Polygon’s Nick Robinson that the game holds a surprise just as big as the turn that came at the end of Brothers.

“Without giving anything away,” Fares said, “when you play the game through the essence of the design is going to be super clear when you play through it. It’s something that you’ve never experienced before.”

Fares talks a big game, but time will tell. Either the game lives up to his promises, or a whole bunch of journalists have been given carte blanche to rough him up. A Way Out is expected on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One in early 2018,