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Review: The Path (PC)

April 7, 2009

path-header

The Path isn’t quite art, but it aspires to be. Belgian-based developer Tale of Tales’ latest title is, like The Graveyard before it, another serious attempt at forcing the gaming populace to think in challenging ways. In that sense it’s more like a thesis paper than a gallery showing. Except in this case you have to pay $10 on Steam to experience the message.

Part adventure, part horror and all patience, The Path asks a lot of its players while giving some of the effort back—if they play long enough to figure that out.

Probably not the best place for your child

Probably not the best place for your child

Tale of Tales says that their projects are about providing “emotionally rich interactive entertainment.” The statement holds true with The Path’s unsettling nature and dark overtones, but it’s obvious that the team indulged in stereotypical elements of videogames if only to then alter them with their design-based commentary. Say goodbye to an intuitive HUD, reliable map and clear-cut objectives. Instead, players must rely on thinking the not-so-obvious and letting go of their trained behaviors from years of digesting stock titles and experiences.

A modern Little Red Riding Hood tale, The Path dissects life into its many nuances—covering the bases of childhood innocence to teenage cutting—with the help of six young girls who might be more comfortable on the cover of The White Stripes’ next album. The red-and-black-wearing white girls vary in age from child to 20-something, each girl possessing an overstated flair thanks to wardrobes and body language like the Gothic-dressed Ruby and the classic beauty Scarlet. It doesn’t matter which girl is picked to begin The Path because you’ll be returning to the desolate, red-walled menu room each time you complete a girl’s chapter and accompanying story.

One of the few bright spots in The Path

One of the few bright spots in The Path

Adventures start after the same cut-scene of what sounds like a bus heading out of the city (visible only in the background haze) to deposit the chosen character at the end of a paved road and the beginning of the path proper.

Both cheerily bright and overbearingly dark, the world of The Path is an exercise in color theory and atmosphere instead of highly polished graphics. Your female avatar first stands in the bright, warm sunlight of the woods, flora and fauna flanking her and enticing her to take a nice stroll along the titular direction. It all looks so nice that you’re inclined to believe the game and innocently follow the dirt road.

Handwritten text explains how to move the girls and your overall objective: Head to grandma’s. The game also makes it perfectly clear to players that they must stay on the path and not veer off into the darkness of the forest. In reality, The Path punishes its players for following the sole directive given to them.

The Woodsman's hang out

The Woodsman's hang out

If the girl is taken straight to grandma’s, the only reward is seeing ol’ gam-gam asleep in her bed. Fade to black. Game over. The game’s end tally of stats will tell players they fail, and it’s only then one realizes The Path isn’t meant to be played in a traditional sense.

Yet, the general gaming populace wouldn’t know that by defiantly checking out the woods. When players do so they’re greeted with the tense plucking of violins, spastic piano notes and screen overlays of bear, bird and wolf paws. The sounds alone cause immediate tension. Paint and blood spatters flash here and there and the palette become desaturated, everything looking much more terrifying than the brightness of the path and making players wish for the calm of the path and grandma’s house.

Ruby has a smoke with a "wolfish" man

Ruby has a smoke with a "wolfish" man

The game is very rarely forgiving, but that’s what makes it fun: experimenting and testing the rules to see what works and what doesn’t. The effort put into The Path is equal to the enjoyment received. Look at the game like a difficult piece of literature that needs to be sampled over and over again. This isn’t John Grisham, it’s Leo Tolstoy.

The Path should be played for what it tries to do for the videogame industry, namely its sly criticisms of accepted gaming cultural morays. Maybe it’s pretentious and maybe it’s just too unapproachable, but that’s up to individual tastes.

No kids in the hall here

No kids in the hall here

Gamers who don’t like to think too hard during lengthy and uneven gameplay: Stay far away from The Path. Only the strong-willed out there who can get over the initial frustration, deceit and confusion will find a deep and dark twist on an old classic. And, if persistent, they will assuredly enjoy themselves in the long run on a not-so-short path.

Recommended for:

  • The extremely unique take on what a videogame is supposed to be
  • An experience that’s better played than explained
  • Making you feel more disturbed and scared than games like Dead Space and Resident Evil 5

Not Recommended for:

  • Extremely unintuitive, though on purpose
  • A very exclusive experience in its “artsy” attempts at dissecting the videogame culture
  • Frustrating at first and dishonest. Though interesting qualities will assuredly anger many typical gamers
  • It requires an enormous investment of time and patience, which is a lot to ask even for $10

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2009 9:57 pm

    I wasn’t sure what to make of The Path at first, but I’m intrigued enough to bite and download a copy for myself. I dunno what it is, but I’ve had a lot more fun with cheaper, downloadable games lately than full-price blockbuster retail releases.

Trackbacks

  1. Daily Recap: April 8, 2009 « The Silicon Sasquatch
  2. Tale of Tales» Blog » Reviews of The Path continued
  3. On Running a Real Blog | Nick Cummings | nickcummings.com
  4. Tale of Tales» Blog » How to play The Path -and enjoy it
  5. Tale of Tales» Blog » How to play The Path

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