Fold up your overalls, prisoner. We don’t know much about the next game from Hazelight, the studio who made co-op jailbreak ‘em up A Way Out. But we at least know it isn’t a sequel. "What I can say is that it's not A Way Out 2,” said Josef Fares, studio head, when he spoke to me at Gamelab Barcelona. “But it's going to be something with story, and in many cases remind [players] of Brothers and A Way Out, but in a very different way.”
So, another co-op game? Maybe. Fares wouldn’t say for certain, but he did leave a few vague breadcrumbs, amid his usual exuberant outpourings. He swore a lot, is what I’m saying.
“You're going to get fucked,” he said, speaking about the unannounced project. He doesn’t mean this literally (I hope). He means “mindfucked”. An abrasive term Fares likes to use to describe previous games he has worked on, in place of simply saying “there’s a twist”.
“I like to make [the player] not really know what's going on... just like a roller coaster ride. Make them [think] 'woah, what's going on over here?' ... Especially the endings... The next game will be like that too. And that's why I call it 'mindfucking', it's a nice approach, a nice motto, you know?"
He is thinking of the thumb-confusing gimmick of Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, in which you control two characters with separate joysticks, or the twist in the jailbird story of A Way Out. The important thing is that there is something just as “mechanically” interesting about the studio’s next adventure.
“The next game is going to be an insane game, mechanically,” he says. “Oh my god... It's impossible to get tired of the next game. You will [be] like 'what the fuck'. It's going to be like that. You're going to get fucked. You're going to get fucked every 30 minutes."
As for the type of game it is, Fares won’t say exactly. But he does say he’s interested in “multiplayer story games”. Which suggests another co-op tale, or something else involving more than one player.
"I do believe that there [is] a lot of potential in telling great stories for more than one person,” he says. “If you look at movies today, we look at them together, we experience stories together... I do believe that multiplayer story games are underestimated. I think that there's a lot of potential there that I would like to explore."
Obviously, you’ll want to take the Fares hype with a big bath full of salts. He’s an animated man, maybe best known for his on-stage hyperbole at the Game Awards, where he said it would be “impossible” to dislike A Way Out. He even doubles down when I bring this up. “It is impossible!” he says.
“It is impossible. I'm actually surprised it didn't [win] 'game of the year' here and there. I can see that it needs more polish. Several of the people on the team were interns. I can understand that people compare us to Uncharted which is crazy in a sense. We're not polished, the gameplay is not necessarily like 'boom'. But in general, what A Way Out does is totally unique."
That boastfulness crops up time and again during our interview. “I can make AAA today if I wanted,” he says at one point. “I say what I want.” And later: “EA know this, they know they can’t control me.” He’s basically a living quote machine. It’s no surprise that he’s previously said he believes in the questionable idea of the auteur, some over-riding creative force who whirlwinds in, solely responsible for the creative vision of a studio. But when I ask him about this, he feels he needs to clarify.
"No, no, no,” he says. “A game is totally a collaboration between a team. And if you look at my team, like my designers, everything, we are super [collaborative] and they do amazing stuff. My job is to keep pushing them - come on, go go go, more more more. So it's definitely a collaboration.
“However I do believe that you need a person or two to push a vision. I think it's important. We tend to see the games that do become great have that person or two that is pushing... I do believe it can be better for the games."
The studio’s previous prison break caper was a mostly good co-op paltime, said Kevin Wong in our A Way Out review, even if it had cumbersome stealth sections, and tried to do too many things at once. Whatever the studio is doing next, it won’t be a behind-bars sequel. They won’t go back, man.