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The Path Review

Review; Apr. 19, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Jenner David Cauton
A game about much more than facial dimensions.

(Please note: Due to the nature of the game, it's very hard to review The Path without spoiling some parts. However, the game contains very little explanation of what you can or are supposed to do, which can be a turn off. Unfortunately, this is somehow both the game's main draw and its largest fault. We touch on what to expect but avoid giving specific details. If you want to experience the game completely blind, do not read this review.)

As I mentioned before in the Beat Hazard review, independent games are a mixed bag. But it's a bag worth digging into if you're looking for something different. Not being a well-known game developer can be a little bit of a blessing. Without a high-profile name, there's lower expectations (and unfortunately less notoriety), but this gives the developer a lack of peer pressure and the freedom to try something the world may not have seen before. The Path is one of these games.

The Path Screenshots
Click the image to view game screenshots

"The path is a short horror game inspired by older versions of Little Red Riding Hood, set in modern day. The Path offers an atmospheric experience of exploration, discovery and introspection through a unique form of gameplay, designed to immerse you deeply into its dark themes. Every interaction in the game expresses an aspect of the narrative. The six protagonists each have their own ageg and personality and allow the player to live through the tale in different ways. Most of the story, however, relies on your active imagination."

The Path isn't so much of a game as it is an experience. The player gets to choose from six girls, all ranging in age and personality. After choosing your character, you're given some food and drink to take to your grandmother, and you'll be dropped off at a long, straight road in a forest. The game then flashes your one and only objective: 

Go to Grandmother's house, and stay on the path.

Screenshot #2

If you were to do exactly this, it makes for the shortest video game ever. You'll walk down the path, and enter Grandmother's house. The game then switches to a first-person view, where every button will slowly advance your character to Grandmother's bedroom. When you find her, you simply sit down beside her on the bed. The game then ends prematurely and gives you some statistics and your ranking. If walking the road is all you did, you get an F.

The idea of the game is to go against your natural instincts of following orders (if they're natural to you at all in a game) and to explore the forest, which contains many objectives. Each girl will have her own reaction or thoughts about them. For example, a more serious girl will feel sorry for a cooked bird she finds on a wooden stump after collecting its plucked feathers. A younger girl would ignore the death aspect all together and wonder what she can make with the feathers instead. Finding a dirty syringe freaks a neat and tidy girl out while it's a fun plaything for someone younger. There are also static objects that can be interacted with, such as a shopping cart or a piano. Once again, the level of interaction will be dependent on your character.

Screenshot #3

The game's interface is similar to many others, but its style attributes to the game's atmospheric presentation. For the most part, you won't see any health bars, warnings, or numbers anywhere on the screen. At times, the game renders overlays on the screen to convey focus or extra meaning. The entire interface comes off as an interpretive dance instead of a game.

With no real action involved, and no real way to die, the game may look like it's aimed at only women or children. In fact, it's not even recommended for young gamers. Despite its fairy tale origin, it touches on many life lessons such as growing up, naiveté, failure, maturity, sex, and death. Keep in mind that while none of the more controversial themes are ever directly shown, it does reference them.

How much you'll get out of the game will depend on your willingness to be immersed. The game's story must be shaped by your own imagination and perspective. Even though players will interact with other characters, there is no dialogue. You simply have to come up with your own explanation.

The Path is designed as a horror game, but whether it will scare depends entirely on the player's perception. The game's main theme song gives a feeling of tranquility, a sense of security (or just plain sleepiness if you're playing this game late at night). But in true Red Riding Hood fashion, the main objective is to encounter each girl's "wolf." 

The wolf is never truly what its name implies. Rather, each wolf is a representation of different controversial themes or issues, ones that pertain to the character you're playing. Encountering these wolves is optional, but they are required to get a real ending, which includes a cut scene and a fade-out. The player's character is then shown collapsed on the ground at the entrance to Grandmother's house, slowly waking up. She's distraught, emotionally conflicted, possibly even hypnotized. What exactly happens during the blackout is never shown or directly explained and is instead left up to interpretation.

Screenshot #4

It's at this point when the game shows its true horrific nature. Entering Grandmother's house in this state transforms it into a dark and corrupted version of the path you had taken on the way there -- hence the name. It's a typical house of horrors straight out of a nightmare: long corridors, reversed rooms, rooms that bend reality, and rooms that lead to other rooms that defy gravity. This twisted version of the house is where the real interpretation comes into play, as you'll see symbolic -- and rather disturbing -- representations of what or who you've encountered on your journey before.

The Path in its current state is pretty much a bug-free game, but it's not without its faults. Mainly, as mentioned above, the pace is slow. Very slow. The girls turn and walk slowly around the huge game map and will only run if you hold down the run button -- but continuing to run darkens the screen, plays a nerve-wrecking heartbeat loop, and drags the camera away from your character to a bird's-eye view until she is literally touching the top of the screen. The most obvious explanation is she's running out of breath -- which is understood, but it's still annoying.

If the slow walking doesn't get to you, then getting lost will. Once the road to Grandmother's house is off camera, landmarks to keep yourself oriented are few and far between. The forest is flat all the way around, with the same copy-and-pasted trees and flowers repeated to infinity. The game won't tell you, but the map also loops, which causes most of the confusion. Go all the way in one direction, and you end up back at the other end, but with no indication of it. Eventually, you'll feel the game's slowness might not be because your character is so slow, but because you just plain can't find anything. There are guides to help you, but just like the rest of the game, you'll have to guess that they're guides in the first place.

Screenshot #5

Due to its pace, this game is not for the impatient. But those willing to wait will be treated to a masterpiece that will speak to you in many ways other games haven't. You're not playing a game; you're playing an elaborate poem -- a poem you write yourself. No one can tell you what anything means. No one can tell you right from wrong; it's all up to you.

For many years, analysts have discussed whether video games can ever become art. While I typically see them more as pieces of entertainment, The Path cleverly takes away what constitutes a game and may have proven that theory true.

Presentation - 10

This is seemingly what the game was designed for. This game will make you think a lot -- if you let it.

Story - N/A

Due to its nature and encouragement to craft your own, this doesn't really apply.

Graphics - 7

This is one of the better looking indie games around. It's nothing spectacular, but the heavy use of filters and overlays fit perfectly.

Sound - 10

The game's soundtrack is very atmospheric, both during its gentle and dramatic parts. Sound effects are subtle, but heavily attribute to the game's nature.

Gameplay - 5

Unfortunately, this section might turn off many gamers who are expecting more of an active experience. The game is essentially The Sims without a needs system to worry about, or any goal, or any direction, or ...

Current Stability - 10


Lasting Appeal - 5

This largely depends if you enjoyed the game at all for its intended purpose. After you finish the game's rather ... curious ... ending, you can continue to play any of the girls to find or unlock whatever you didn't get your first time around. If you didn't understand some things, you mind find a point in replaying even if you found everything, but it might be better to find a video online somewhere.


Review Score

Not Rated by ESRB


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