The Path review
Which Path Will You Take?
The indie scene has always been a source for finding the mot bizarre "out there" projects you could possibly think of. Tale of Tales is certainly known for fitting this aspect perfectly, and their The Path game is a fine example of this, to the point of raising the question of whether it's a game at all or more of an experience. I guess the best thing to do now though is to figure out whether it's worth your money or not.
I'll start with what The Path is. This is a dark twisted tale based loosely around the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale. Six girls are all tasked with taking some food and drink supplies to grandmother's house deep in the woods. That's about where the clear cut story elements end, because the rest of the story essentially boils down to a psychological mind*bleep* where it's up to you to figure out what the heck is going on.
This can be a good and bad thing. A lot of the game is about interpreting the things that occur. Each girl has a different set of events they can activate often tied to their personalities. Ruby, the goth girl who obsesses over the concept of death, will play around in a busted car or will pick up a bear with two heads sewn onto it. Similarly, grandmother's house in the success endings will be different for each girl. These can give an insight into the girl you're playing and lets you explore the psyche of different archetypes.
On the other hand, some people will not like that nothing is made clear. The game makes vague allusions to the girls, as well as what happens to them, but by the end you'll only be more confused than when you went in. It's not even clear if the girls are related or if they exist at all. The situation has led to a myriad of far reaching theories, but with them branching off in so many directions and no official word on the matter then it could prove a bit irritating.
Atmosphere is certainly up the scale of creepy. The Path works not by sudden cat scares or having an aggressor chasing after you but by creating an oppressive atmosphere that gives the impression of danger lurking just out of sight, which is accomplished with a clever combination of its visuals and audio.
The game's graphics aren't exactly top of the line but they look pretty good. The technical merit reminds me of the PS2 era graphics, which don't quite meet the more realistic standards of current games but do still show off the girls and environment well. The forest has been constructed fairly well as have aspects like pools of water. A few times I stumbled across the odd graphical glitch but nothing too major.
Where the game does work extremely well in its visuals is not the technical element but the application of them. Colour is a major theme here. When on the path everything is bright and vibrant, giving players a sense of safety and comfort. Wander off into the forest though and that brightness drops off and the colour becomes paler. Different shades are used in various areas as a highlight too. It's quite striking and gives the place a distinct forboding feeling.
The music definitely hits the creepy notes as well. While there isn't much to listen to on the path, a chilling background track plays out as you venture deeper into the forest. With a strong combination of chords and vocals it works to unsettle the player as they explore the darkness. My main complaint here though is that the track tends to loop. It's fine when you play through as the first girl but then as you play as each girl and keep hearing the same track it does start to get old.
Still, the psychological aspect is played with to a nice degree. Many games of the current generation tend to go in with clear directions and sign posts. What does The Path do? Gives you one instruction - to go to grandmother's house while staying on the path - and then proclaims you failed if you follow it. Other games may reward you for breaking the rules; in this one you are required to in order to make any progress. It's a neat little twist to proceedings.
So the only choice then is to enter the forest, and this is where the game starts to bring out the real content. The ultimate goal of this is to find "the wolf". This isn't an actual wolf (aside from one girl's case, and then it's not a normal wolf) but rather something that represents what appears to be a weakness to that girl. This could be along the lines of indulging in childish ignorance or embracing the concept of death perhaps too much.
In addition, there are various objects scattered around the forest that the girls can interact with. Certain objects will only be used by certain girls and will bestow a "memory" (usually a grainy image). This forms something of a sidequest. Finding them isn't required but getting certain important objects will unlock several extra rooms in grandmother's house, giving further insight into the current girl.
There is certainly lots to see in the forest too. The place is simply massive and areas are not in the same places as you move between girls so you'll find yourself exploring a lot. It can be easy to get lost (which is indeed part of the point) but even then there are some systems in place. The more useful of the two are the screen overlays and flowers. As you explore the forest there will be image overlays that indicate the direction of important elements that could be useful or might not be. This is built upon with the flower system, where the girls can collect glowing flowers which will add specific area pointers to the screen overlay as you reach certain amounts of flowers. This does help players to track down important areas and not spend too much time dawdling.
The "ghost girl" is another element. She can be found deep in the forest in random locations and can lead the player character to areas too. However, she might end up taking players back to the path or to unimportant places too so this is hit and miss. Then there is the map overlay, which automatically displays every so often, but all this does is show where you've been in the form of dotted paths. It is too vague and even hard to see in places so not that useful.
Sounds good so far but The Path has some rather notable problems. The biggest offender here is pacing. The girls are rather slow even when running and the game will even disable the run option in several locations for reasons I still haven't figured out. Maybe it's for atmosphere, but I was more annoyed by it. The forest is huge and so this just makes it take longer to get anywhere. The walk to grandmother's house after the wolf encounter is especially bad. The girl thankfully walks automatically once you pass by the gate, but during this time you can literally go make a hot drink and come back and still not be in the house yet.
The controls also seem to be a bit loose and awkward. Moving forward works fine but trying to turn isn't ideal. Turning while moving forward is fine. Trying to turn on the spot doesn't quite work. Instead the camera rotates and then you try to move forward and hope it works, because sometimes the camera will decide to swivel back and she'll walk the way she was facing anyway. Interacting with stuff is also odd. To interact you simply have to not press anything. It sounds simple, but the game can be picky at times on where you have to be to interact (even with visual overlays showing what you can currently check out) and sometimes the girl will interact when you were just having a look around. A button input would fix both issues.
The final big issue is that there really isn't a whole lot to do. The experience of exploring a dark creepy forest is great first time, cool second time but with each successive girl the enjoyment value decreases. Despite the rearrangement of areas it is still the same forest with little unique content each time and most of the gameplay elements boil down to glorified fetch quests.
When you finally find the wolf for a girl the events black out and you end up facing grandmother's house. When you enter the game puts you into a first person perspective and limits the control input. There's no real gameplay here other than pressing any button to move along a preset path (which can differ if you've unlocked the secret rooms). You can also look around, but the game doesn't let you look very far to the sides unfortunately. This part is more like the girl's ending but allowing for some input from the player. Meet the wolf and expect the house to be creepy and weird. It's definitely a neat way to handle each ending (even if you won't understand much of what is happening), but I do wish the look around controls allowed for more freedom.
In terms of performance I found that the game will stutter in a couple of places (most notably in the opening sequence once a girl is selected) and suffer long load times on settings where other games of the same or better quality work fine. Given the apparent technical quality it is a bit surprising but nothing to cripple the game.
Other reviews tend to jump to the "if you like this sort of thing" line when giving a summary of The Path. It's certainly tempting and leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I do want to say that the experience offered by The Path is unlike anything else, but the gameplay flaws aren't easily ignored. Bad pacing and odd control decisions will hit you in the face. If you're really after an alternative creepy adventure then by all means go sample the mind*bleep* this game offers, but if those flaws sound irritating then you might want to consider other games in the horror genre.
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