In what is probably the quickest turnaround from a First Impressions to a Review, I finished The Path this evening. I think it’s unfair to classify the game as a “horror” game, even if the developers call it that. The Path didn’t strike me so much as a horror game as maybe a psychological one. There wasn’t anything that struck me as scary in the traditional sense. However, there are plenty of moments that I would call creepy, unsettling or disturbing. But the important question remains: is it a good game?
I could probably write a thesis about the plot behind The Path, but I’ll keep things simple (plus I plan to write an analysis later). The Path is a re-imagining of the older versions of Little Red Riding Hood. You play as one of six sisters who is tasked by her mother to take a basket to her sick grandmother. As the road turns into a gravel path, you’re given your only objective: Go to Grandma’s house & stay on the path. Should you choose to obey this, you arrive at grandma’s in just a few minutes, safe & sound… & with a big “Failure” on your ending screen. That’s right. If you obey the game, you lose. The only way to “win” is by disobeying the game & exploring the surrounding forest. Each sister has her own interactions & responses to the things you find in the woods, as well as encountering her own version of the Wolf. After finding the Wolf, you’re returned to grandma’s house, which has now changed… & not for the better.
Gameplay is pretty simple. You can walk, run & interact with objects. Collecting items & interacting with specific objects will unlock more rooms in the house for you to explore. Occasionally you’ll encounter a strange girl in white who will lead you to interesting items or try to guide you back to the path (once you lose sight of the path this is the only way back to it). You’re main goal is to find the wolf, but you can explore the area as much as you like. The forest itself is infinite in the sense that it never ends, but it actually just repeats continuously. Meaning if you keep running straight you’ll eventually come back to where you started.
Narrative: The Path is a very artsy game, & by that I mean it’s more of an interactive story than an actual game. The story (or the path) is the main point of the game. However, not a lot is directly spelled out. The developers encourage the player to interpret the game as they see fit. That being said, you probably shouldn’t take what happens as being literal. Even the wolves are just manifestations of obstacles on the path to growing up. To make the most out of the game, you really have to think about what’s going on. Because of this, the story won’t sit well with everyone. The story certainly won’t appeal to those who like things spelled out in black & white. However, just the fact that the game encourages you to think for yourself should be commended, & it works rather well. You’re given just enough information to tease you with an answer. There’s no spoken dialogue, even with the wolves, but if you pay attention the game gives you plenty of subtle clues. That being said, there were a few moments that I really had to make a leap for an interpretation. Score: 4
Mechanics: Simple but it works. The Path is a “game” by the barest of definitions. The controls are functional but nothing groundbreaking. I did have a few issues, though. One is that when you run, the camera zooms out into chase mode, which makes it hard to see where you’re going. I’m sure this was intentional, as to discourage people from running around all the time. Also, the layout of the forest seems to be random for each girl, so it’s impossible know where each special area is. You do get to see your path every 100 meters, but it’s still hard to tell where you’ve been, & you’ll end up running into the same areas. Also, when you enter the special areas, you can only walk slowly through them, so there’s no way to quickly leave some place you’ve already been. On the positive, I like that when you enter the house everything goes to first-person rail mode. You have to keep hitting the walk button to move through the house. This really immerses you in the moment. So overall the controls aren’t stellar but they’re good enough to get you through the game. Score: 3
Aesthethics: Aside from the story, this is where The Path excels, in my opinion. It’s all about atmosphere. The graphics are very good & stylish. The forest is suitably gloomy, only brightening in the special areas. If you run for too long, the screen grows darker. The audio is also very well done. For the most part you hear the same main music as you explore the forest. It’s very light, never becomes annoying, & will probably get stuck in your head (I’ve been hearing it since I started writing this review). The music changes when you meet the wolves, & it’s very good as well. It never fails to make your pulse race, knowing something’s about to happen. Random noises abound to make you paranoid. Chains rustle, swings creaking, & disembodied laughter are just a few of the noises you’ll come to expect. But the real centerpiece is the house. The house changes dramatically based on each girl. The dark & disturbing visuals combined with haunting audio fills you with dread. It doesn’t help that if you stand still for too long things go darker & the sounds become more sinister. I HIGHLY recommend wearing headphones to get the full effect. Score: 5
Replay Value: Slightly above average. You probably won’t be able to get all the items or unlock all the rooms on the first playthrough. Also, most people will probably play more than once to fully understand what’s going on. That being said, the game doesn’t change any the more you play. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Words: This is certainly not a game for everyone. If you prefer your games heavy on the action & everything clearly spelled out, I doubt you’d enjoy The Path. However, if you’re willing to branch out from the normal, love trying to wrap your brain around obscure philosophical ideas, or want to see what new grounds gaming can achieve, it’s definitely worth checking out.
The Path is an indie game that can be purchased on Steam or from the Tale of Tales website for $10.
Title: The Path Console: PC Rating: M Developer: Tale of Tales Publishers: Tale of Tales & 1C Company Release Date: March 18, 2009